Petrichor’s USP is that it is a 360 degree experience made to be viewed using VR glasses, either in a Covid-Safe theatre environment (it’s at Theatre Royal Stratford East between December 8-13) or at home. If you want to do the latter, you can order a nifty, easy to assemble cardboard set via the company’s website.
Petrichor is set in a near future world where an apparently benign city, or it could be an Amazon-style corporation, offers complete security, freedom from anxiety, and plenty of food in exchange for your labour. Effectively you become a cog in its all-consuming, never-sleeping machine.
Ben Walden’s clever animations and Neil Bettles’ pulsating electronic score and sound design add to the sense of an Orwellian world, one where all your basic needs are serviced but the things that make us human are denied. Touch and eye contact are discouraged. Ayesha Fazal and Dominic Coffey play two workers who have chosen to never have to take another decision for themselves who only realise their error when their eyes meet. In our current situation, in which the advice is not to hug granny at Christmas, the scenario has an extra poignancy.
Ayesha Fazal and Dominic Coffey in PETRICHOR by ThickSkin. Photos by Ray Chan.
There is huge novelty value in watching this collision of theatre and VR and there is plenty to enjoy in the physicality of the performers, Jonnie Riordan and Jess Williams’ choreography (which is reminiscent of Frantic Assembly) and the creation of a total world that comes complete with propaganda and uplifting messages. The visuals are always compelling.
But as is always the case with any technology it is simply a tool and not an end game. All the elements of a great show are in place, bar two: a strong narrative with drive and tension, and characters who you root for and care about. The set-up is great, but after the first 20 minutes you start wondering when the story will actually begin. When it does, it’s immediately over. This lack of dramaturgical rigour is a pity because Thick Skin are definitely on to something in melding theatre and VR. If they can support their admirable ambition with stronger storytelling they may well deliver something bold amnd orginal which has the potential to entice both old and new theatre audiences.
You can see Petrichor online, 7-13 Dec or in the theatre, 8-12 Dec.