Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I am constantly saying “‘why isn’t theatre doing this?”‘,”‘when are we going to see some digital innovations in the arts”, and a general “I want digital apps for theatre now“. Well my prayers have been answered this week in an app designed by Hide&Seek and commissioned by The Royal Opera House, called The Show Must Go On. It’s a colourful, playful and downright fun game that gets you thinking about the various aspects that make up a production on the stage of the Royal Opera House.

Ever since the launch of Bjork’s digital app that created a digital playground to explore her newest album, I’ve been eager to see something playful and inspiring in the world of digital theatre apps. The majority of current apps available for Apple-related productions (apologies to Android users, I’m not one of them) relate to listings of shows, such as Digital Theatre’s listings app or the British Council’s Edinburgh 2011 Showcase app. There have been slightly more adventurous ideas such as Theatre Ninja’s app that allowed users to hunt down free or discounted tickets during the Edinburgh Festival, often requiring stealth action from its participants to gain a ticket. Otherwise the theatre industry has been slow on the uptake.

The Show Must Go On, however, sets a precedent for any arts organisation seeking to explore the world of apps. Backed by The Royal Opera House and handled with the playful charm that Hide&Seek offer, it’s not surprising that I find myself engrossed in the app’s addictive game play. Thrown into making a production run smoothly after a series of bad luck incidents, you take on the role of the stage manager,and attempt to complete a number of tasks to create an exceptional performance. The mini-games are each tailored towards a particular area of the production, from the composer needing his score (you have to jump across the Covent Garden roofs to retrieve it) to the lighting designer’s frantic need for someone to control the lights.

What makes The Show Must Go On so enjoyable, beyond the actual gameplay itself, is its sense of fun and playfulness. Taking the role of the stage manager is a genius way of looking into the various aspects of a production. Rarely does the limelight fall upon the person who is searching for props, or ensuring the actors have the right clothes on, so to have the game focus on this area within the arts is enlightening. It’s also educational (but strictly fun whilst you learn), allowing someone who has little experience with the theatre industry or how to put on a show to understand the elements that make up a production. If you do well in the game and score highly, the production will run smoothly and you’ll gain a standing ovation. If you don’t do so well, you’ll see a shamble of a production and not a lot of clapping to follow from your audience.

Beyond the gameplay itself, there is a wealth of funto be had from the various aspects that make up the design and running of the game. EMI Classic has allowed for music from some of the popular operas such as The Marriage of Figaro and Carmen, whilst ballet fans amongst you will enjoy music from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker as background music throughout the game. During the development of the game, the Hide&Seek team were given access to the Royal Opera House to record sounds of the theatre which have also been incorporated into the game itself. It’s no wonder the game requires wifi to download as it goes over the 20MB restrictions for 3G downloading.

As images often speak louder than words, enjoy some screenshots from the game below:

I’ve been keen for arts organisations to begin to explore the possibilities of apps in their work, and whilst there are considerable difficulties with this including costs, logistics, and longevity of an app, The Show Must Go On has broken through the void of listings apps and created a game that is fun and inspiring. So it’s not quite as innovative as Bjork’s digital music app, but in terms of an arts organisation working with a game designer such as Hide&Seek (although this doesn’t quite cover the full remit of their work) it’s a huge step in the right direction. What with the Digital R&D fund launched by NESTA and Arts Council England to engage digital exploration of work in the arts by pairing technology-based companies with arts organisations… it almost seems like The Royal Opera House has run ahead and shown that it can be done, and done well.

You can download the app from iTunes here.

Otherwise, be sure to check out both The Royal Opera House blog, and Hide&Seek’s website, or even for that matter the official Show Must Go On website (yes, they have a website and everything!).