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Frogman review at Traverse Theatre at Codebase, Edinburgh – ‘technically innovative’

Frogman. Photo: Curious Directive Frogman. Photo: Curious Directive

It feels like the shape and size of VR helmet itself in part must have influenced Curious Directive’s technically innovative new devised piece. A pair of chunky black goggles that sit heavy on the head, they do look a little like the mask of a frogman. Diving and the undersea world play a large part in Curious Directive’s new show, inspired by the bleaching of the coral reefs.

A small audience sit in a rectangle. We each have a pair of headphones and a VR helmet. There’s some preamble about us forming a jury at the trial of a man accused of murder, but this feels like a logistical necessity rather than a narrative one as we can only enter the VR world for short bursts of time. These scenes are framed as ‘evidence’ though they have the texture of memory or dreams.

In front of us a young woman, Meera, an expert on corals, is interviewed by an unseen voice about her father’s involvement in the disappearance of Ashleigh, a local teenager, some years back, when Meera was a kid.

The VR sections of the show are divided between scenes set in Meera’s bedroom – performed by a quartet of excellent young actors – and scenes of the reefs, filmed underwater. The VR experience is fascinating, the scenes in the bedroom working the best. You’re immersed in a 360 degree visual world; it’s a little disorientating, a little uncanny. Camilla Clark’s 1990s bedroom set is incredibly effective, full of details that slowly reveal themselves as you look around. The underwater sequences are a little less successful – they feel more distant – but they’re beautiful to behold.

Jack Lowe and Russell Woodhead’s story about childhood friendship and the myths we make for ourselves is quite a tender and delicate one. The scenes of the kids hanging out together in their room, forming clubs and watching movies, rings true. But this feels distinct from the courtroom scenario we’re presented with in the beginning. The two elements don’t quite gel.

Frogman is typical of a company given to making work striated with ideas. The storytelling is sometimes fuzzy, as is the dialogue, but the work always has a mille feuille quality: it contains layers upon layers, aboriginal myth, the slipperiness of memory, the thrill of being underwater.

The virtual reality elements remain exciting even if there’s still a sheen of novelty about experiencing theatre in this way. Certain elements of the show seem designed to accommodate the technology, and the story doesn’t quite hang together. You lose something of the communal aspect of theatre but gain a sense of immersion.

Always global in outlook, Curious Directive, as the company’s name suggests, seem keen to explore these possibilities and to experiment with where theatre can take us.

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Intricate fusion of devised theatre and virtual reality from Curious Directive