150 years into the future Sarah and Danny meet, fall in love, and get married in a Wellington devastated by earthquakes, climate change, and the effects of a distant nuclear explosion. Then their careers separate them by distance – Danny in Wellington working to save the Earth, Sarah on Mars working to create a new world. They can meet in the Atom Room, a virtual reality space where they can talk, touch and love. Will it be enough for them?
There’s a short preshow VR experience from Polytronik Studios which sets the scene for Wellington. The land is underwater and different to what we know now. People have to wear protective suits. (Keep an eye out for the flying car.) When the opening video sequence rolls in the theatre we are already primed for the idea that everything has gone horribly wrong. Outside has (mostly) become too dangerous for humans and in a similar way we (mostly) see Sarah (Harriet Prebble) and Danny (Taylor Hall) isolated from other people.
Occasionally Sarah’s manager Margaret (Claire Waldron) swoops in, bosses Sarah around then swoops out again. The concerns of the characters are similar to concerns now – gender roles, relating to each other via a digital medium, work, the desire to be part of something bigger than yourself, family – with a small amount of technobabble to indicate it’s set in the future.
Director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford deploys the actors neatly through the snapshots we get to see of their lives together. Prebble strikes just the right balance between being in love and excited about a relationship as her potentially species saving work. She has wonderful moments where her face is particularly animated and we can feel her character’s passion. Hall starts sweet as a slightly bumbling earth optimist which is expressed in his body language.
This changes as the stakes change for his character. Waldron is marvelous as a self-contained tyrant with voice and gestures reinforcing her distance from the others. A slightly breathy voice later in the show reveals how affected she is.
Set and costume designer Ian Harman has taken inspiration from a number of fashion eras resulting in a design that feels futuristic yet familiar. Costumes are light brown, sand coloured or cream which contrast the virtual reality neon wireframe style of the set. AV designers Raylene Beals and Johanna Sanders (with videography by Benny Jennings and Adam Browne) provide visual augmentation.
The lighting design by Jennifer Lal works sympathetically with the projections resulting in a space that is always visually interesting. Original music by Ruth Carr, Paul Dodge and Ryan Beehre provides a soundtrack that is ethereal and affecting. I love the design and how it’s used.
I really enjoyed this show* and I hope you go and enjoy it too.
The Atom Room, on at Circa Theatre, Wellingtn, to 7 July 2018.