Writers: Jack Pirie and Doreen Wayne
Music: Jeff Wayne
Director: Jack Pirie
Although epic in design, this War of the Worlds immersive experience feels like a hidden secret. Its entrance is unassumingly tucked into a shop front deep in London’s financial district, but behind its facade is a cityscape full of excitement, alien machines and some top notch Virtual Reality.
Whisked back to 1898, small groups of adventurers get caught up in a Martian invasion. Despite the chances of anything coming from Mars being a million to one, the Martians come, killing anyone who gets in the way. As the adventurers pass through a series of rooms, windows and slides they too become the targets of the bloodthirsty machines.
The War of the Worlds’ website implies that the experience is not scary, but there are two parts, one of which is performed in total darkness, where the tension is raised to heart-thumping levels. Actors lead the groups through a labyrinthine route of Victorian dining rooms, forests and churches. Each section is handsomely designed by Tim McQuillen-Wright, Gothic and Steam Punk in equal measure.
As the show is based on Jeff Wayne’s hugely successful Prog Rock album of 1978, music also features, starting off with the anthemic The Eve of The War, which is played alongside a film showing the early devastation caused by the machines in, improbably, Woking. However, the real star of the show is the VR that is accessed through headsets three times during the show. The first time the adventurers don the headsets is the best, as seated in a rowing boat, they are transported to the Thames, which blazes in battle and all to the melancholy sound of Justin Hayward’s Forever Autumn. This alternative reality is stunningly beautiful and yet interspersed with moments of terror and awe. The other VR pieces are impressive – one is set on a hot-air balloon – but they can’t match the boat journey, which borders close to the sublime.
Some of the actors play their roles tongue-in-cheek, but the experience works best when they play it straight. However, it’s all good fun, with the best joke being that they sell Mars Bars in the half-time tavern. And if only the photos weren’t so expensive….
Other immersive experiences pack too many people into their shows – take, for example, the underwhelming Dr Who: Time Fracture where people are squashed together and where there is little to do – but with only about 12 people in each time slot for the War of the Worlds everyone sees and hears everything. This makes this epic voyage a cut above the rest.