This stage production using VR and compelling storytelling blew our mind at The National Arts Festival

2019-06-30 12:03
Man Wearing Virtual Headset

Makhanda – The National Arts Festival – held annually in Makhanda – is all about pushing the boundaries of performing and visual arts.The renowned gathering of creatives brings productions from all around the world to the sleepy town in The Eastern Cape.

One such production, Frogman (which took place in Scout's Hall), was my favourite show at the event this year because it brings acting, virtual reality and audience involvement into one fascinating package. 

I saw the production, which is originally from the United Kingdom, on Saturday, 30 June, with a group of other journalists.

The basic plot, without giving away too much, is that a young girl disappeared over two decades ago and new evidence emerges that reopens the investigation. Half of the story is told in flashbacks while the other half is conveyed by an actress just a few feet away from the audience. How it worked logistically was that we each sat in swivel chairs with headphones and a virtual reality headset. A scene would play in the headsets, and then a command with a countdown would pop up and tell us when to take off the headsets and watch the actress.

READ NEXT: Highlights from the stellar line-up at this year's National Arts Festival and where you can get tickets.

Some in my group found the virtual reality headsets a bit overwhelming and disorientating while others found having to step back and forth between the two worlds too much of a hassle. I found it to be incredibly interesting, and I loved how it enveloped me into the production. In the virtual reality world, I could turn and look at whatever I wished to. Each audience member could do the same, and so we all saw different things and different parts of the story. Sometimes with a stage production I can end up feeling a bit far from the action, and it's easy for it to feel a bit disconnected, but with Frogman I felt like I was literally in every scene. I also found the actress on stage, Georgina Strawson who played Meera Clarke totally captivating. She has travelled with the acclaimed production all around the world and stars in the upcoming season of Netflix's The Crown

The storyline itself is a bit heartbreaking and left me with a lot to chew on. Nothing was spoon-fed to me. So, questions were left unanswered, and I think that was a good thing because I could make up my own mind about certain characters and events. I also really enjoyed the fact that some people were elated after watching, some were sad, and some were just confused. To me, that's the mark of a piece of art. It sparks conversation.

All of the upcoming performances of Frogman at The National Arts Festival are sold out. The festival continues until 7 July 2019. 


*Alex Isaacs' trip to The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Multichoice.* 

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.