This is a theatrical experience quite like no other. We are ushered into the large studio theatre where we are required to divest ourselves of our belongings (bags, coats, drinks, etc) and plant ourselves in one of around thirty seats surrounding a long strip of rippled sand. We are then instructed to don the earphones and 3D goggles which, ergonomically designed, sit very comfortably on your head. We are informed that we are members of a Queensland jury, summoned to cast judgement on the case of a disappearance of a young girl, assumed to have drowned some twenty-odd years ago.
The live performance takes the form of a police interrogation in which coral scientist Meera (Tessa Parr) answers questions relating to her secret friendship with the troubled teenager, as well as filmed 3D performances where we find ourselves in Meera’s bedroom, alongside her other two best friends, as well as deep below the sea amid the coral reef, where Meera and her frogman father search for the missing body.
Those six-minute intervals during which we are immersed in the virtual world of the young Meera are by far the most impressive. You can swivel in your chair and follow the Australian child actors as they move around the colourful room. And yes, you really do feel as if you are there with them and that they might address you at any minute. The underwater visuals are less clear: I feel suffused and claustrophobic, the reasons I have avoided real diving in the first place. In this sense, at least, it feels realistic. At other times we remove our goggles to watch Meera squirm uncomfortably as she recalls her clandestine association with her tearaway friend . Tessa Parr’s performance is intense and believable. We like her, we believe her, we feel for her. And her testimony feels both like an anguished admission of guilt and a cry of innocence. The culminating event, such as she describes it, feels like an unresolved trauma, an unfinished narrative. It is up to us to answer the unanswered.
The plot references the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and takes on elements of coming-of-age drama and the supernatural, and if the story doesn’t quite hang together that doesn’t matter so much because our attention is primarily preoccupied with the sensual world being created around us. We leave the studio slightly stunned and pretty much in silence. With Frogman we take a leap into new performance territory. Is this, I can almost hear them thinking, the future of theatre?
After playing at the Warwick Arts Centre, The Frogman plays at Norwich Arts Centre 23 – 28 October 2017. Click here for more details.