National Theatre's Free Virtual Reality Experience EASTER RISING: VOICE OF A REBEL Opens Today
Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel, a BBC Learning virtual reality (VR) experience, is available for the public in a free installation at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Lounge from today. Available until Saturday 22 October, the experience - jointly created by BBC Learning, Crossover Labs and VRTOV, two pioneering companies in the field of VR - is watched using an Oculus Rift headset.
Easter Rising was used during rehearsals by the cast and creative team of the National Theatre's current production of The Plough and the Stars in order to help them research the events of the time through an immersive, intimate medium.
The VR experience is available to the general public, thanks to a unique partnership between BBC Learning, Crossover Labs, VRTOV, Oculus and the National Theatre's Immersive Storytelling Studio, allowing audiences attending The Plough and the Stars to further immerse themselves in the events of the Easter Rising in 1916.
Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel lets users step into the memories of Willie McNeive and journey back to Dublin and a moment that changed Irish history forever. Through VR, users relive the memories of a 19 year-old-Willie as he takes part in the Easter Rising. The Easter Rising was a violent, armed insurgence where men and women occupied key sites in Dublin, proclaiming the Irish Republic. The uprising became increasingly chaotic and bloody, culminating after six days with the rebel leaders surrendering. Hundreds died, including British Soldiers, civilians and rebels.
The VR experience makes use of McNeive's eyewitness account- a recording of which lay undiscovered for over 30 years. Through a remarkable and very personal insight into this a key moment in European history, Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel presents an artistic vision of the memory of an ordinary man who was swept up into an extraordinary event. Liam Cunningham (best known as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones) voices the part of Willie McNeive, with Jennifer Saayeng (Les Liaisons Dangereuses and City of Angels for the Donmar Warehouse, The Colour Purple for the Menier Chocolate Factory) voices the Narrator. It was produced for the BBC by Dan Tucker, Editor of History Online.
The Plough and the Stars, by Sean O'Casey, follows events in Ireland from November 1915 to Easter 1916. As the rebellion builds to a climax half a mile away, the disparate residents of a Dublin tenement go about their lives, peripheral to Ireland's history. Sean O'Casey places a fixed lens to watch, mercilessly objective, as a dozen vivid characters come and go - selfless, hilarious and desperate by turns - while the heroic myth of Ireland is fought over elsewhere. The production runs until Saturday 22 October 2016.
The Plough and the Stars, staged to mark the centenary year of the Easter Rising, is co- directed by Howard Davies, who memorably brought O'Casey's The Silver Tassie to the NT stage in 2014, and Jeremy Herrin (This House and People, Places & Things). The production is designed by Vicki Mortimer, with lighting by James Farncombe, music by Stephen Warbeck, sound by Paul Groothuis and fight direction by Kate Waters, The cast includes Adam Best, Kieran Gough, Lloyd Hutchinson, Grainne Keenan, Stephen Kennedy, Lucia McAnespie, Justine Mitchell, Roisin O'Neill, Judith Roddy, Eoin Slattery, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Josie Walker and Fionn Walton.
Oscar Raby, Creative Director, VRTOV, said: "Reconstructing an event from the past with interactive media is a way of saying history is never finalised, we never stop probing it and finding what it means in the present. Every time we tell a story an event is reconstructed in front of us. Interactive media and computer games in particular, put this dynamic nature at the forefront of their experiences. They merge what was designed in the past with what we actively do in present time. A story told is a story updated. This act of vicarious involvement is itself a new chapter in that event's history.
History is like a painting that is constantly dripping down, never dry. Every now and then we come back to it, take a photograph and publish it. Over time several versions of the same painting will be produced, all pointing to the same origin and every photograph slightly different than the previous one.
The medium we choose to make those historical snapshots is a key to understand the era when the work was produced and it is a reminder of the way we were approaching history there and then. What did we care for? Were we emotionally invested or thoroughly analytical? Were we talking about connection or introspection? Action or contemplation? These are questions that define the stories we are collectively exploring with the current use of Virtual Reality.
Stories told in Virtual Reality are a constant survey of the present, all the way to a granular level. When we hear them, when we see them, when we act them out, they exist. Their nuances emerge from our own postures. When the illusion is played to its fullest it seems that everything around us is actually paying attention to our actions. History is no different."
Mark Atkin, Executive Producer, Crossover Labs, said: "One of wonderful things about Virtual Reality is that it allows you travel back in time. Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel transports you back to Dublin, 1916, and allows you to be swept up in a movement that changes the life of a young man and the destiny of a nation. While the Rising itself was short-lived and quickly suppressed, our story is of a shot not fired and a long life lived. I am delighted that it is being shown alongside Sean O'Casey's wonderful play and hope that both together cast some light on this significant, yet often overlooked, episode in British, Irish and European history."
Michael Tuft, Executive Producer, BBC Learning, said: "VR is still an emerging medium, but it's got huge potential as an immersive experience to inform, educate and entertain our audience. This piece shows how it can be used to tell compelling and complex stories. It forms a key part of the BBC's output examining the Easter Rising from a variety of perspectives and in different mediums. As audiences visit the National Theatre to try Easter Rising we hope they will be transported to another world just as they are when they watch great theatre."
Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel is the second front of house installation at the National Theatre to use immersive technologies. The first, produced by the NT's Immersive Storytelling Studio, was enter wonder.land - an experience created to explore wonder.land, the National Theatre's musical created by Damon Albarn, Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris, inspired by Lewis Carroll's iconic Alice in Wonderland. The VR music video fabulous wonder.land, which was available to view as part of the enter wonder.land exhibition, was available at the National Theatre in a front of house installation from 2 December 2015 - 30 April 2016. Over 90,000 people have watched the experience to date.
Toby Coffey, Head of Digital, National Theatre, said: "Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel is a great piece of immersive storytelling and very different to our previous VR installation so I am looking forward to seeing how audiences respond."
Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel is available in the Lyttelton Lounge, National Theatre until Sat 22 October. Monday - Saturday, 12noon - 11pm. Free of Charge. nationaltheatre.org.uk
Watch a trailer below