Frogman from UK theatre company Curious Directive is a mixed media portrayal of a teenage girl’s mysterious disappearance from a small town near the Great Barrier Reef. Using live theatre, audio recordings and virtual reality, the play alternates between a modern day police interview, archival video footage of police searching a coral reef, and stylised flashbacks.
By enlisting the audience as members of a jury at the play’s outset, director, Jack Lowe and co-creator Russell Woodhead encourage us to fully explore and scrutinise the spaces shown to us through our virtual reality headsets, and the novelty of this interactive element had us all spinning in our chairs in search of clues, but as the story neatly unfolded it quickly became clear that the technological aspects were there to encourage our immersion in the story rather than our analysis of it. And speaking of immersion, once the urge to scan the coral for a missing teenager had subsided, the experience of floating along the barrier reef provided some much needed visual spectacle to the production, albeit with very little narrative purpose.
Annabel Betts’ convincing portrayal of the central protagonist Meera anchors the play in the present, and were it not for her lively yet nuanced acting performance the play - with all of its technical innovation - would have fallen flat. Flashbacks to eleven year old Meera’s interactions with her friends were shown to us through virtual reality, and there were moments where Ava Ryan brought a thoughtful sadness to her depiction of the younger Meera.
While the rest of the very young cast’s recorded performances were predictably clunky, the set design of Meera’s room – complete with a bunk bed, Sega Megadrive and a copy of Dumb and Dumber on VHS – lent the flashback segments an air of authenticity. Furthermore, Camilla Clarke and the rest of the team responsible for the VR world added some understated yet effective stylistic flourishes in their approach to the play’s more supernatural elements.
While certain elements of the plot were slightly undercooked, this was a laudably innovative production which told a simple yet highly emotional story in a unique and inventive way, and which benefited greatly from a subtly engaging live acting performance from principal actor Betts.