A thrilling new experience is launching at the Tower of London on the 6th May 2022 and it’s set to be the biggest attraction to open in the capital since the Shard.
Through this exciting experience in which live actors, virtual reality and multi-sensory special effects collide, audiences will step back in time to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, where they have an active role to play in one of the greatest stories and adventures in British history.
The guests’ exhilarating mission is to infiltrate the plotters, earn their trust and then join them.
The experience takes place in a purpose-designed immersive theatre space in the Vaults opposite the Tower of London, last accessible to the public two decades ago, where much of the prelude to the Gunpowder Plot took place before Guy Fawkes’ torture and eventual death.
In collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, the project brings together an incredible team including director Hannah Price (trained at RADA and the Donmar, founder of Theatre Uncut, co-Artistic Director of King’s Head Theatre alongside Mark Ravenhill, Performance Director of multiple BAFTA winning AAA games), acclaimed BAFTA-nominated writer Danny Robins (The Battersea Poltergeist, 2.22: A Ghost Story, starring Lily Allen), curator Alden Gregory (curator of Historic Buildings at the Historic Royal Palaces) and producer Tim Powell (Historic Royal Palaces).
A cultural revolution has been going on with new operators providing location-based experiences, using technology, in a far more immersive way than traditional theatre.
Leading this new form of entertainment is the award-winning company Layered Reality, formerly known as dotdotdot, who have delivered more than 250,000 VR experiences and transported 60,000 people back to 1898 in their critically acclaimed Jeff Wayne Musical Version of The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience. The event won the prestigious THEA Award (dubbed the “Oscars” of the entertainment world) and is among the Top 10% of attractions globally according to TripAdvisor. The company are also the creators of 2018’s multi-award-winning lucid dreaming experience SOMNAI.
Key to Layered Reality’s stunning immersive experiences is layering three multimedia elements. The first is theatrical features, comprising intricate, large-scale walk-around sets, and first-class actors performing live. The second element is the newest technological advances, including virtual reality and projection mapping, ambisonics and multi-sensory SFX. The final layer to ensure you are completely immersed within the world of the experience is physical sensations: temperature, scent, taste, physical movement, touch and sound.
Layered Reality CEO Andrew McGuinness says of their latest adventure:
It’s the added elements of cutting-edge technology and the multilayered approach which make this so exciting in comparison to other immersive events, says Hannah Price. What VR enables is the creation of worlds that we could never go into; you can’t recreate the streets of 1605 London in any other way.
It’s also exhilarating, because instead of just observing and seeing how the action unfolds, you become a participant in that extraordinary set of events. This is your chance to step back into history and experience it. Since the pandemic for many months put a halt to in-person entertainment and socialising, people now want more than ever to come together to experience something memorable.
In an age when people passively consume culture on demand, streaming music and television online, this new immersive project is an antidote to that but in the most modern of ways that will appeal to audiences across the generations.
It may be an age-old story, but the themes remain remarkably relevant today. Telling the tale of a country divided with Catholics against Protestants, as society was recovering from the plague and fearing the next outbreak, the story features parallels with today’s Brexit and Covid-19 that are all too resonant – particularly the sense of people having to choose a side.
The historically accurate depiction of the city and events is overseen by Alden Gregory of Historic Royal Palaces. Everything has been meticulously researched by Gregory down to how people would have sworn in Jacobean times.
It may be unusual to have a curator within a theatrical team, but Gregory’s role, within the challenge of enabling the creation of a whole 360-degree world in virtual reality, is much the same as it would be for an exhibition: to ensure that the experience is true to history and creates a sense of authenticity and understanding of what the past looked like.
That includes shifting away from the stereotypes of a filthy London swilling with sewage and animals running around, or of crumbling buildings and decay.
Guy Fawkes and other Gunpowder conspirators were imprisoned, tortured and interrogated in the Tower of London. Telling history where it happened is a key aim of Historic Royal Palaces. “It brings a whole other dimension,” says Gregory. “You can descend in the vaults and actually travel back in time to a version of London that people haven’t ever experienced in quite this way. It’s going to be hugely exciting. We want to give people the sense that they might have time travelled through this show. I think it will feel very authentic with those experiences of joy, confusion and fear that the conspirators felt.”
The challenge in creating the experience lies in simultaneously creating an experience rooted in history and a thrilling night of entertainment that reaches a far wider audience than those drawn to historical buildings. Powell’s focus is the use of immersive technology in this show that goes beyond the limited virtual reality dabbled in by museums and attractions to date. It’s also a vast distance from watching reenactments which again offer a passive view of history rather than the sense of personal involvement. Powell says:
That it’s a cleverly plotted theatrical narrative also helps it become “not a cold learning exercise, but rooted in that emotional journey, with hopefully peril and fear and a bit of laughter.”
Above all, it’s an experience that will be awe-inspiring for the most jaded of viewers.
Arriving after many months of people being starved of entertainment during the pandemic, this thrilling new experience is needed now more than ever. McGuinness explains:
The Gunpowder Plot opens May 2022 in Tower Vaults at the Tower of London.
Tickets go on general sale on 19 November. Register for the presale at gunpowderimmersive.com before 1pm on 12 November for an exclusive presale discount worth £10 and a chance to win VIP tickets. Presale tickets are available from 16 November.