Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Ugly Lies the Bone, Virtual Reality and The Power of Theatre

Much as I'm interested in new technologies, Virtual Reality (VR) has never been my thing. I suffer from vertigo from time to time and, from what I've read, VR experiences can trigger it. I already struggle with 3D movies (I rarely go to a 3D version of a film these days), and I really don't like sweeping film sequences as if in flight. I have to look away from the screen. So I'm not a natural fit for VR.

On the business side, beyond entertainment (immersive films and entertainment), I've also not seen a compelling reason for VR, yet it's one of those technologies that won't go away, has been invested in heavily and was ubiquitous at this year's Mobile World Congress. Admittedly, it was fun watching a colleague walk the plank off a virtual sky scraper, but that's a gimmick or a game and isn't going to be for everyone. So it's fair to say, I'm a VR naysayer. Or at least I was.

I'm now beginning to see some exciting uses for VR in terms of well-being. I, and several thousand others were moved by Tribemix's work with dementia patients by using Virtual Reality to take them back to places where they felt safe and could escape their dementia, even if only for a short while. I think it's extraordinary how the mind can be fooled and that you can immerse yourself in an alternate reality so readily.



Which leads me to the fabulous play I've just seen at The National Theatre - Ugly Lies the Bone. It's the tale of Jess, a US war veteran who was badly injured in Afghanistan and spent 14 months in hospital and is in constant pain. She moves back to her home town in Florida to live with her sister and as part of her pain management, she uses guided VR to help her overcome some of her physical and mental limitations.

I'm fascinated at the prospect that something non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical like VR might be used to heal and to manage chronic illness or chronic pain. That has to be better than pumping people full of drugs.

The play explores Jess's return to her hometown, and her rebuilding relationships with her sister and ex boyfriend and trying to establish a new life for herself. Jess also immerses herself into a VR experience and the audience also experiences it through some of the most stunning visuals I've ever seen on the stage. They're so good that they almost take away from the writing and performances. The tight cast do not disappoint. The relationship dynamics are really interesting as others, and Jess herself adjust to the disfigurements she suffered and to the triggers that send her back to the moment the bomb went off in Afghanistan that sent her on this painful journey.

The play is life-affirming, fascinating and beautiful. Go see it while you can! It may help you see another side to virtual reality beyond nerds gaming in darkened rooms. More about the play and how to book tickets on The National Theatre website.

In both the film and theatre examples above, the power of storytelling and the power of theatre is clear to me. Theatre has the power to take us somewhere else entirely, and in turn, that can be a fabulous healing experience.