Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds – The Immersive Experience review
I’m a fan of immersive theatre and virtual reality experiences and had previously visited DotDotLondon’s first outing Somnai in spring 2018. When I heard they had created an immersive experience of Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, I was very intrigued. I vaguely knew the rough plotline of the original H.G. Wells’ novel from the 1890s which inspired Wayne’s album. I went along recently with a group of friends. While waiting for our time slot, we took a seat under a Martian in the steam-punk themed pub and restaurant, with sensational newspaper headlines and sinister changing paintings around us giving a hint of what’s to come.
At the beginning of our experience, we were taken to a ravaged room and were introduced to the characters of George Herbert and his fiancée Carrie projected as holograms. After describing the scene of the Martian invasion of 1898, we heard the familiar beats of Wayne’s theme song as our journey began. We were taken to a Victorian observatory and introduced to Ogilvy, the astronomer. Looking through the vintage telescopes, we spy a mysterious green light coming towards the Earth. It isn’t long before ‘something’ has crash-landed in Woking and Ogilvy appears to be burned alive in front of us by a ray beam – an effective, but quite horrifying bit of special effects. The scene really gets your heart racing and sets you up ready to flee.
The experience lasts 110 minutes and features a mix of virtual reality, holograms, pyrotechnics and immersive theatre. You’ll need to be active and be prepared to hide under a table, crawl through a tunnel and slide your way through tight spaces. You get to wear a virtual reality camera on about four occasions, including a haphazard boat trip escaping the Martians (complete with real water splashes!) and a balloon ride. Occasionally, the VR headset could be a bit glitchy, but it certainly transported you to another space. One VR scene in a confessional booth was a little scary, so much so I kept bending down and hiding, prompting an unseen staff member to encourage me to stand up! Seeing some of the men in my group transformed into Victorian women in the VR set was particularly humorous. Along the way, you have many encounters with castmembers in character, with one giving me some money to bribe a boatman, which was a successful transaction! One of the most memorable moments was crouching under a table in a shaking room in the pitch black, anticipating some awful creature about to come into the room. Halfway through your journey you get to stop off in the Red Weed Bar for a cocktail.
Overall, it was an enjoyable and thrilling experience. The whole journey features an incredible 25 different sets throughout the 22,000 square feet building. Several scenes got my heart racing as the tension built. Admittedly, the VR technology wasn’t perfect, but the scenes created on the VR screen were certainly stunning and well-done. Riding a boat down the Thames while witnessing a burning London under siege from the Martians was particularly impressive. As someone who doesn’t really know the Wayne musical – bar the familiar theme song – it was a good introduction. Fans of the Wayne album will likely love it as the music makes many appearances throughout the experience. The cast were great and really encouraged you to embrace the drama. As with many immersive experiences, always attend with an open-mind to improvisation and interacting with the cast.
- Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds – the Immersive Experience is on until August 2020. At The Old Metal Exchange, 56 Leadenhall Street, City of London, EC3A 2BJ. Nearest station: Aldgate, Liverpool Street or Fenchurch Street. Times vary. Tickets: £49.50-£84.50. For ages 12 and over. For more information and booking, visit DotDotLondon.
- Update 16/03/20. The Immersive Experience is temporarily on hold until 31 May 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK.
N.B. No photographs are allowed during the experience, apart from in the steampunk bar and restaurant at the beginning.
For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.