Remember the first time you got absorbed in a book and the whole world came to life in your head? That same awe and imaginative glee is to be found in Circa 69’s The Cube. Blending Unity 3D and Oculus Rift VR technologies with the age-old art of storytelling, this work is a thrilling taster of how cutting edge technologies and theatre may go hand in hand in the future.
The Cube picks up from Circa 69’s Beyond The Bright Black Edge of Nowhere presented at last year’s Digital Festival. Both performances deal with the mysterious disappearance of eight students from Magic Valley Liberal Arts College in Idaho in 1959. Letters written by the students to their parents were all that was ever found of them, describing a journey to “the bright black edge of nowhere”. The letters were discovered in a black wooden cube fifty miles into the Great Basin Desert. This cube is where this new exploration of the story begins.
Audience members are led to the basement The Old Market theatre – already out of the safer, familiar territory of the theatre space and into something new. There’s a sense of trying to generate the same feeling of excitement mixed with unease present at certain immersive theatre events.
I am led into a room by myself, my own version of the cube; in front of me a table, a chair in which I am told to sit, and opposite me a man in a suit. This man is, presumably, Simon Wilkinson creator of The Cube. He shows me a photograph of his granddad and tells me how, as a twelve-year-old boy, his grandfather gave him a copy of Mysteries of the World magazine. Inside the magazine was the story of the 1959 Idaho disappearance that began to haunt Wilkinson.
After this brief introduction I am helped into my augmented reality headset and headphones. The story begins; the landscape shifts from inside the cube – letters scattered over the table – to the desert with a burned out school bus and then suddenly I’m falling down a shaft. I look up and see the sky disappearing, look down and a distant image of the Earth grows ever closer. The experience ends in outer space and if you thought Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity was impressive, you’re going to love this. The technology is mind-blowing.
The experience ends all too quickly and, as I remove my headgear, I notice an envelope on the table instructing me to take it. Later, reading the 13 page letter from one of the students to their dad I realise the latter part of this is what I was hearing through my headphones. Apart from a few key phrases I had pretty much forgotten the narrative I had heard – too distracted by the awe-inspiring visuals – and so was glad to have the letter to try to make some sort of sense of the experience.
I’m eager to see where The Cube develops. As an usual visual adventure it’s fantastic, but as a piece of theatre with a strong narrative it needs some work. More time is definitely needed for the audience member to settle into the new world they’re inhabiting. Keeping the experience so short means it’s a thrill, but the subtleties of the narrative and its mysteries are lost. The balance between the live performance aspects and the augmented reality could also use some work. All this, though, will come with time and I’m hoping we’ll have a fuller version of The Cube at next year’s Digital Festival. For now if you’re after an unusual, thrilling and stunning experience I thoroughly recommend The Cube.
The Cube is playing at The Old Market as part of Brighton Digital Festival every weekend until 27 September. For more information and tickets, see the The Old Market website. Image by The Old Market.