By UK/Indonesia 2016-18 team

12 April 2019 - 15:00


Doc. by Curious Directive

True to this year’s slogan of UK/ID Festival, Jack Lowe’s Frogman is a piece of work that breaks boundaries - blurs them, even - by combining live theatre and virtual reality (VR), using real-life footage shot during Lowe’s visit to Nusa Lembongan in Bali. Showcased at the Jakarta Arts Institute, Frogman, in Lowe’s own word, is ‘a dark and sinister experience involving diving and underwater search-and-rescue.’

“So the footage that we shot is incredibly beautiful, but in the context of the story, it becomes incredibly sad,”

he teases.

Involving two interconnected plotlines, Frogman is first set in the present day, with a coral reef scientist interrupted by a police officer who says that her father has been charged with the murder of a 13-year-old girl back in 1995. “Then the story goes back to 1995 and you see the actor as a young girl, as her present-day self recounts every piece of memory she has about that year,” Lowe explains. Over the course of the story, the scene oscillates between theatre to VR in search of the 13-year-old’s body, with a set of rules that the viewer gets to pick and choose. “The audience is framed as a jury and allowed to be critical about what they see,” he continues.

Creating an ambitious project was certainly not without its share of challenges. Although initially conceived in September 2014, it took Lowe two years to obtain enough support and funding as the project was seen as being too experimental, especially since VR is a fairly new approach for the theatre world. “I nearly gave up on the project twice. Nobody wanted to fund it - probably for valid reasons - but I figure there’s always going to be a problem when you’re trying to do something different,” he recounts. However, he refused to give up. “I thought doing Frogman would be a great exorcism of my own desire to make films, but it also made me realise that theatre is so flexible as an art form. It’s much more flexible than people might realise,” he adds.

Jack Lowe while delivering a VR Workshop at The Other Festival on 3 November 2018 . ©

Doc. by British Council

Virtual reality, Lowe says, overlaps so heavily with theatre, even more so in its reliance on sound. “Although obviously so much of it is about the visual, I didn’t quite realise the importance of sound in VR. As such, my experience in theatre came in handy,” he adds. What’s more exciting about VR is the audience’s active participation in the story and their eventual takeaway that might differ from one person to other. “Some people feel very satisfied by Frogman, some people feel like they need more. Different cultures have reacted very differently. In Indonesia, audiences, particularly younger film students, are really excited by it,” he notes. “I think it’s because their perception of VR is very open and free. And since they’re students, they’re still exploring what they want to do in their lives.”

Seeing a variety of responses is said to be exciting for Lowe, especially since Frogman is about to sail on a world tour. “Frogman is going to Hong Kong, Singapore, Bergen and possibly South Africa in March to July 2019. Then maybe back to China in the autumn,” he informs. Still, he claims to be humbled by the international recognition that Frogman has received. “It’s amazing for something that started out as a small project. It took a lot of courage to embark on a project based on VR, but I have found that audiences get and enjoy that and feel like they’re experiencing something new. It’s a new way of experiencing live theatre.”