Frogman

Jack Lowe and Russell Woodhead

curious directive

The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

From 19 September 2017 to 23 September 2017

Review by Karen Bussell

Relieved of coats and bags (but cough sweets and water allowed as a boon), numbered swivel seats and a length of sand-like foam await an exclusive audience of 24 in curious directive’s hi-tech coming-of-age drama.

With earphones attached and VR headsets adjusted to fit, we are told that we are the jury in an Australian court hearing a murder charge. Meera’s frogman (police diver) dad is charged with murder and we are asked to return a verdict.

There follows a mix of live theatre and 360 degree 3D virtual reality as coral scientist Meera (Tessa Parr) relives that halcyon summer 22 years ago while questioned by the police. VR takes us into her 1995 bedroom to observe, in slightly blurry 3D, the early days of the coral club, childhood friendships and secrets—and that fateful night on which Ashleigh went missing.

Themes of parenting, stereotyping, bonds and memory are explored.

With no more than eight minutes at a time wearing the headset, the action swings between the simple rabbit-in-the-headlights Q&A on stage and the vibrant days of a long hot summer, learning to swim and underwater with the police searching the reef.

Sprung from concerns about the fatal bleaching of the Barrier Reef, Frogman is a strange piece. The VR is interesting (if nauseating, report several watchers), particularly enjoyed as a new experience but it seems as if Frogman is really about showcasing the technology, and the somewhat inadequate story is jammed in as a vehicle to do so.

It is a long hour faffing about with getting spectacles off, headsets on, adjusting earphones, swivelling about, getting headsets off, re-orientating, turning back to face the performance space and specs back on, and anomalies irritate.

We are not a jury—we don’t hear evidence: we watch an interview where a single adult is asked to remember a particular night 22 years previously and relives momentary memories of that time. We don't give a verdict and, in any case, Meera’s recollections don’t tie in with information provided (such as a rucksack being found); the diving sequences are quite lovely but technically inaccurate; Meera has grown a birthmark since being 11, and I’m left wondering why cutting (rather than fragging) coral can be seen as acceptable when the reef is dying.

Interesting but more questions than answers so ensure your parking ticket allows for a Q&A session after the performance.