Talking 'The Crystal Egg' with Old Lamp Entertainment

The Crystal Egg Photograph: Luisa Guerreiro

In March 2017 Old Lamp Entertainment will premiere H.G. Wells’ ‘The Crystal Egg’ as an exciting cinematic and sensory production. In a current scene filled with immersive theatre and interactive experiences, co-producers Mike Archer and Luisa Guerreiro are aiming to push the boundaries of live performance through a fusion of multimedia forms. Guerreiro explains the desire to ensure the audience are “absorbed into the world. You'll be sitting as you would in a cinema, and completely immersed sensorially in the world of the story via multimedia. We are exploring what can be created by fusing light, sound, video and performance.” 

The original novel tells the story of Mr Cave who has an antique shop in Seven Dials. He lives an unhappy existence, and is treated badly by his wife and step-children. Within his shop is a crystal egg which becomes as important to the plot as the characters themselves. Whilst Cave sees a world with two moons and flying creatures, presumably Mars; the Martians are observing earth, one assumes with the intention of an invasion. In next year’s adaptation, Guerreiro explains, “the egg is going back to Victorian times, to when our narrator, a crazy old man, is a child. We can't comprehend him initially, because he seems to make no sense.” Old Lamp have made adaptations to the original story for the purpose of making what is a heavily scientific story, more dramatic. 

Mike Archer Photograph: Mike Archer

‘The Crystal Egg’, often considered a pre-cursor to ‘The War of the Worlds’, reflects the contemporary resonance present in Wells’ writing, something Archer has considered in depth whilst creating the concept for their production. “The writing never feels period. It's full of scientific concepts, but in a way that's grounded and realistic. The 1950s version is iconic, but its grounded in reality. He writes about a time that he knows, and had his finger on pulse of society, which is why in our own time we can relate; because Wells understood people.” 

Indeed it isn't hard to see why Old Lamp have honed in on this story, which seems to have relevance whenever it is presented. Written in 1897, appearing as part of the TV series ‘Tales of Tomorrow’ in 1952 and again in 2001 as a TV adaptation, ‘The Crystal Egg’ has always found a way to access the time period. In the 50s the world began to fear the impact of the atomic bomb, and in 2001 (alongside the 2005 release of Spielberg’s blockbuster ‘The War of the Worlds’), society was still reeling from the atrocities of 9/11 and a world facing the dangers of terrorism. As Old Lamp’s production of ‘The Crystal Egg’ begins production, we are living in a world obsessed with technology and the production hones in on the lack of privacy in the world around us. Archer defines next year’s premiere as ‘an invasion story for the now’. “There's always the anxiety of ‘who is watching us?’, and it's scary. There's always something in the papers about internet security, phone hacking; right up to now; accusations of hacking US servers to influence the presidential election results. Technology has become an unsettling force, it lurks in the shadows.” The new production will reflect this through the suggestion of the Martians using the egg to view earth, just like ‘Big Brother’, always watching. “In our adaptation, the shop inherits the technology, and it subsequently screws everything up”, Guerreiro adds. “It splits the family, poisons the atmosphere and breaks up the unit.” The focus seems to be on our cultural and social attitude to the world around us. One would never automatically blame our phones or social media for a lack of face to face communication, but what becomes evident through the concept of ‘The Crystal Egg’, is that we need to do more together, to communicate.

Keen to explain the way their concept will work, Archer and Guerreiro explain that audiences members will “visit the slums of Seven Dials, and discover a secret amidst the dusty items of a small curiosity shop.” In contrast to ‘known’ immersive productions, such as the creations of Punchdrunk, ‘The Crystal Egg’ aims to make their production a form of cinematic theatre, though not in a way that “you are walking into a theatre or a cinema. You have been sucked into the screen (or stage) and everything happens around you.” Guerreiro identifies the key difference between their work, and what is understood by conventional immersive theatre. “You will be immersed in the world, but in a passive sense. It is the message of the piece that is active. We want you to be enlightened during the experience, for you to have assumptions on entering which, by the time we're through, have been challenged and ultimately provoke discussion. Our production is not focused directly on being a spectacle, but with our concept will certainly be exciting visually.” In contrast to the work of Punchdrunk, in which the audience member is active, exploring the space and delving into multiple narrative; ‘The Crystal Egg’ will encourage the audience to become unaware of themselves. “We call it a ghost audience in the sense that you'll view the characters in the same way Scrooge does when he travels through time. You are in a world you cannot affect,” explains Archer.

Luisa Guerreiro Photograph: Luisa Guerreiro

There is an awareness that the egg is watching the audience, but it's not an established two way conversation; so whilst we are not dealing with interaction, the audience member is essentially passive. Archer prefers to use the word ‘reactive’ because there is an active element to the relationship between audience and egg. One could say there is an element of surveillance going on, but to go further would he to say too much! In theory, elements of the experience may be different every night since the suggestion is that, to some extent, what the audience do drives the egg. Guerreiro is excited by the format being used for the egg itself. “The technology we're are playing with enhances the story. We want to avoid gimmick as it can be detrimental. Story drives the production, our use of technology supports it, so the tech is making us aware of the world around us.” Archer interjects, “There was an American stage production which used puppetry. It was fascinating to look at, but in their version, the egg was passive. For us, the egg needs to have presence, and we need to show what it's doing.”

From here we found ourselves engaging in a really interesting discussion about the use of Virtual Reality, gaming and Artificial Intelligence. It's all to easy to go there when realising how much audiences expect from performances these days. From the successful introduction of VR in gaming, the progression to artistic ventures makes complete sense, and this is something Old Lamp have looked at. Whether it is something which might eventually find its way into their work was not confirmed, but their need to avoid gimmick would suggest that if it did, the application would be subtle and supportive of the sensory appreciation they are keen to inject. Guerreiro hints that the egg will be “a light installation, a kinetic sculpture with something special about it”. 

Whilst the project is clearly very much underway, Old Lamp Entertainment have connected with Phundee to raise enough money to mount the production in the way they want. Whilst enthusiastic about the support they have received to date, from Centroid Motion Capture, Pinewood, a longer term relationship which could last through future productions as well as ‘The Crystal Egg’, as well as interest from both the H.G. Wells Society and the Seven Dials Trust; they are aware they need more for the production they envisage. The requirements of the production are outlined in detail on their Phundee page (link attached) and they have a week left to reach their 70% goal, at least. They need support to create the lighting, sound and design crucial to their vision. Take a look at their crowdfunding page and dig deep for an innovative project that is bound to dazzle.

After all…. #theyarewatching