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The Pendulum: A Hyper Reality theatre experience at the Vault Festival

Ben Mason - The Pendulum
Ben Mason – The Pendulum

Much of my early life was spent resisting the rise in technology but as I’ve become (slightly) older, I’ve found that the desire to be a part of things in their infancy, to ride the wave of progress, has taken a more prominent role in my thought processes.

I’ve been waiting for VR (Virtual Reality) to become consumer friendly for some time and I’ve waited for it to arrive in popular culture. I feel that VR, unlike 3D, has something that will give it longevity and perhaps see it become a part of our regular leisure culture.

In many ways, The Pendulum is that arrival.

What The Tom Sawyer Effect have brought to us Vault Festival goers is an immersive, 360 degree mixed VR and theatre experience that is designed to unsettle, even to frighten. The setting is a single, small room with nothing but a chair and a few bits of tech and I (you), the participant, are brought in with your head covered and hands tied in front of you, seated and then the process begins.

There is a plot, nothing too deeply delved into given the performances short duration but with substance enough and a few little twists along the way to keep you guessing. It’s a familiar storyline but one that could be expanded on for, perhaps, the next release of the show should they want to.

Fans of Hostel, Hellraiser and Texas Chainsaw Massacre will be comfortable with some of the imagery used and there are either deliberate or very coincidental nods to many of the major hits of the horror genre through the 80s but The Pendulum’s approach and the (to me) completely new sense of being surrounded, is something I very much enjoyed experiencing.

Now, I’m not saying it’ll give you nightmares or you’ll be scarred for life. Personally, I think that given the disclaimers you sign to begin the experience, they could go further with the intensity of the VR and the physical aspect of the immersive theatre, but I understand how it must be a very tough line to walk and one where you will inevitably not satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, as a seasoned horror veteran, I would have been happy to see it be a little more extreme.

There are some well-placed touches of physical experience that add to the VR element of the show and keep your focus on where it should be which is an inventive fix for a problem with 360 degree VR – what if you’re not looking and miss it all, and the intimate nature of the performance mixed with the entirely personal experience of the VR make for a slightly unsettling setting which is entirely in keeping with what The Tom Sawyer Effect are trying to achieve.

All in all, it’s good. In fact, it’s better than that; it’s very good and, with some polishing here and there it could be a great first step into commercial VR events. Before the technology develops and becomes more streamlined, this could be an opportunity to create a moment, in years to come, when you look back and remember the first time you ever experienced VR. And how they got you to jump, and curse yourself for doing so.

I never did work out why it was called The Pendulum though…

4 stars

Review by Damien Russell

You have the secret that could bring down the Foundation.
They have The Pendulum, a device that will reveal your darkest fears.
Can you resist & survive The Pit?

One of the first hyper-reality experiences to have been put on in the UK, The Pendulum will blend virtual reality, physical sensations and immersive theatre into an unnerving interactive horror for one person.

The Pendulum is loosely based on the original Edgar Allen Poe story but really inspired by Eighties visceral & psychological horror movies from Kronenberg to Hellraiser, along with the immersive potential of VR.

This site-specific piece has different endings depending on how you fare once you are inside and, of course, if you make it to the end…

The Pendulum is brought to you by The Tom Sawyer Effect, responsible for live experiences for VR titles Marvel Powers United and Killing Floor, Resident Evil and The Witcher video game titles, Stephen King and Robert Galbraith novels and institutions including The Eden Project, The Royal Court Theatre and WWF…and whose producers have also worked on The Crystal Maze Live and Time Run.

28 Feb — 18 Mar 18:00


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