Science And Theatre Combine At Immersive New Atlantis

Ruth Hargreaves
By Ruth Hargreaves Last edited 45 months ago
Science And Theatre Combine At Immersive New Atlantis ★★★☆☆ 3

Tricia Kelly as Bryony Weller. Photo by Andy Franzkowiak

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

If we had just one word to describe New Atlantis, it would be ‘interesting’. That may not sound particularly lively or inspiring, but a show that is interesting, that gives you a shed load of content to think and talk about afterwards, is no bad thing either.

The year is 2050 and we, the agents of New Atlantis, have gathered at The Crystal building in Royal Victoria Docks (right next to the north end of the cable car, a fine way to travel to a show) to elect our new leader. Environmental issues are very much the plat du jour and we are implored by Bryony Weller, the former leader, to make a well-informed decision.

All this takes place in The Crystal’s lobby area. A building that houses the world’s largest exhibition on urban sustainability, the sleek, glass-walled space is perfect for this address. A large podium with giant screen is the only set dressing but the space is an entirely natural fit.

So! To voting! But before we can cast our vote we have an hour to speak to resident scientists about the primary issues of the three running parties: Industry, Reform and Defence. It is at this point that New Atlantis turns into a unique theatre show-cum-geography field trip. We have the run of the building — fun — and can choose exactly which scientists to speak to/mercilessly grill.

Turns out, many of the ‘scientists’ are just that, scientists. Open, knowledgeable, friendly and well up for a grilling. If algae farming, oceanic flotation devices and asteroid harvesting are your thing then you’re in luck. Yet for us non-scientists, the discussions are still accessible, interactive and well pitched.

As interesting as all these pitstops are, the political connection is not always clear. Those of a more scientific disposition may find it obvious, but other than an occasional note on a door and a scientist who drops a hearty “Vote Defence!” at the end of his biofuel explanation, we were none the wiser.

It's not all science — while walking into a room containing robots (yes, robots!) we were intercepted and taken to an adjacent room to help Marcia, the Industry leader, write her campaign speech. But having just been looking at algae for the last 15 minutes, the transition was jarring and we were glad to move on.

At the end, feeling disconnected to the parties left us randomly casting our vote in panic, rather than the informed decision we were told to make. Although interestingly, collected once again in the lobby area, it became apparent that not everyone had exactly the same experiences. We don’t want to spoil anything, but it seems the path you choose will influence your experience.

This is a noble attempt at merging theatrical entertainment with scientific issues. There are certainly strong messages here — not just about environmentalism but also political corruption, democracy and the power of the people. Yet in order for us to really feel involved in the production we had to care, and while New Atlantis had our interest, it didn’t have our heart.

New Atlantis is at The Crystal, Royal Victoria Docks, E16 1GB until 25 January. Tickets cost £20 and can be booked online. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.

Last Updated 21 January 2015