09/03/2018 – DotDot.london: Somnai

I’ve never been happy with myself – I always knew I had the ability to do more, see more, be more. OK, that’s a lie: I’m very happy with myself and strive to push myself as much as possible; however adverts have been popping up on Facebook and around London advertising this brand new service that’ll help me uncover my true potential by accessing my subconscious at will, with only acute death as a potential side effect. What could go wrong, right? … right?

 

With absolutely no information available bar a website selling tickets and a few posters with double edged slogans such as “sleep with us”, I very much read into this as being an intense horror experience where things go horribly wrong and you end up in a nightmare landscape, tormented by nameless entities that want nothing more than to cause suffering due to the imagery and mystery surrounding the event: instead what I found was quite the opposite.

 

Somnai is, at the core of it, an immersive theatrical experience that mixes live action, virtual reality, film, and scents and sound in an attempt to completely immerse you in what can only be described as a cyberpunk sci-fi movie with a slight Black Mirror undertone, just without the dystopia that’s usually prescribed to the genre, and it does it exquisitely once you accept that you need to don virtual reality devices and may end up in waiting rooms due to the nature of the show; having said that, as soon as we entered each scene I was very much back in and immersed in the world once more.

 

From the moment I handed my belongings over to the moment I left the building, I was in awe at what I experienced during my hour-ish long show, from the story and how it played out through to the incredulous amount of technologies used – it’s rarely a good idea to rely heavily on technology given how temperamental it can be, but the team at Somnai are taking that risk and, when the technologies work, it is an absolutely beautiful  and overwhelming experience.

 

What are you waiting for? Come and #SleepWithUs.

Sweet dreams.

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09/03/2018 – DotDot.london: Somnai

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum

Located in the tunnels beneath Waterloo train station in central London, The Vault Festival puts on a series of shows and immersive experiences that spread far and wide across all mediums and genres; this year, one stood out in particular: The Pendulum by The Tom Sawyer Effect. Billed as “a hyper reality horror experience blending virtual reality with immersive theatre”, there was no way I could turn this down – even if I am a sceptic of virtual reality.

It’s time for me to experience The Pendulum. I arrive in the tunnels and am greeted by the usual hustle and bustle of the underpass: a mix of people hanging about outside The Vault itself, street jugglers, professional photographers, and graffiti artists litter the tunnel, creating create this electricity that buzzes through the air but always seemed to be dampened as if it’s only for the select few in the area.

An usher arrives and asks if I’m here for The Pendulum – “Yes” – “Follow me”. We walk down the tunnel and away from the main hub of the festival in complete silence despite my best attempts at striking up a conversation, which unsettled me a bit. We approach a completely unassuming door right at the end of the tunnel and I’m ushered into the blackness, where someone is sat at a table with a sizeable waiver and a pen. I’m asked to read the waiver and backstory and sign on the line, and I do. I’m then handed a red boiler suit and am instructed to put it on and take a seat on the chair off to the side. The usher approaches and covers my head with a cloth, and the experience begins.

What happens over the course of the next 20 minutes is difficult to put into words, but there’s no hyperbole in synopsis: from the moment I was guided from my seat into the 5 metre by 5 metre room where the one-on-one experience is held, I was completely immersed in their universe. Sure I didn’t think that I was this super hacker the interrogator was talking about, but that’s not the point: the actor had me eating out of the palm of his hand for the entire show; not only that, but the way in which the virtual reality was used wasn’t jarring at all as it has been in other attractions – it had a legitimate reason for being used.

Despite me erring on the side of caution with regards to virtual reality (never work with computers, animals or kids in show biz!) and having unfortunately experienced tech failures during haunts that rely heavily on it, I was very much expecting it to be dreadful: I was proven wrong, and man am I happy about that! I don’t want to go into too much detail as there’s a lot that you need to experience for yourself, but the most bizarre and jarring (in a positive manner) thing was that the room went from being 5 metre square to a tunnel that looks about 10 metres deep and 50 metres wide.

 

The Pendulum is a truly impressive piece of theatre that is quick to immerse you in its universe and make you question what you perceive as reality, from the story through to the actors to the technology used, it is a real pleasure to see and experience something of this calibre – well done to absolutely everyone involved!

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum