I’ve always thought I’d make a pretty good spy, mostly because I’m incurably nosy. I want to know everything, all the time. Good job I work for a newspaper.
Now, a new London production is helping me keep that old dream alive. From Factory 42, the Almeida Theatre and Sky, comes Lost Origin, a new kind of immersive theatre that merges storytelling with virtual reality, high production sets and cutting-edge effects.
Based in a Hoxton warehouse, groups of up to six become newly minted members of Wing 7, an undercover unit tasked with cracking a world-changing mystery. I’m taking this seriously, and have dressed in all-black for the occasion.
We’re bundled into a shipping container decked out to look like a surveillance unit for the briefing. The premise: a shady character has set up a black market on the dark web, known as Origin, to sell all sorts of contraband - Covid 19 vaccines, libido-raising rhino horn extract, Brad Pitt’s DNA - you know, the usual.
Our mission: to confirm the presence of the illegal goods and cuff the criminal mastermind behind it all. An anomaly reveals itself on a heat-detecting blueprint of the warehouse, a cold spot in shades of blue. Could it be a cooling chamber for the moody goods… or something else?
The mission begins and we’re taken to the first of a series of rooms to infiltrate the warehouse where Origin is believed to be operating. It has the feel of an escape room; clues unlock a false wall that will lead us deeper inside. Hats off to the set designers, they’ve done a fantastic job of transforming the place with lasers, weird gadgetry and imaginative props.
Perhaps it’s ITV2’s constant reruns of Harry Potter (which I am unable to stop myself from watching), but the contraband room felt like a Knockturn Alley charity shop, shelves bursting with bemusing curios, such as Van Gogh’s ear, cursed relics from ancient worlds and... a haunted dinosaur fossil. A disjointed ghostly voice pleads for help over the tannoy - and this is where Lost Origin’s spy theme goes off on a wild tangent.
It turns out to be the voice of a long-dead Victorian-era archeologist, to whom the dino fossil once belonged. We’re led into a rock-clad room to hear her story, told through projections cast on jagged walls. It’s a beautiful display, made interactive once we realise the lights respond to movement - we’re all soon sweeping our arms around like we’re front row at a soft rock gig to make the sparkles brighter.
Another chamber reveals the VR aspect of Lost Origin, and it leaves me slack jawed in wonder. It’s the best version of VR I’ve experienced; I was dodging and yelping at things my rational brain knew weren’t there.
The cast too, were brilliant, involving and engaging the whole group. Just one felt unconvincing - but that’s only because he was my flatmate. While the surprise presence of the bloke who pathologically shirks all the household chores didn’t shatter the illusion, it did scratch it a bit. Still, hardly a problem any other punter is likely to experience.
Part escape room, part VR wizardry, Lost Origin is worth the ticket price for the effects and the sets, but the plot felt a bit muddled. We skipped from being a dark web-busting undercover unit to paranormal investigators and back again, via a short spell in a Jurassic world. Quite a ride in 60 minutes.
Set logic aside, and Lost Origin is a lot of fun. If the aim really is to marvel at how tech can enhance storytelling, consider it mission accomplished.
Lost Origin is on from Nov 21 - Dec 4, 2021, tickets £30 (£18 for 14 - 16 year-olds) at Hoxton Docks, 55 Laburnum St, E2 8BD; lostorigin.co.uk