Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ollie Jones: The Drop

By | Published on Friday 29 October 2021

Back during the dark and difficult days of lockdown, it was brilliant to see theatre companies adapting their work in myriad different ways to reach online audiences. One such company, Swamp Motel, you may remember, launched a brilliant series of digital interactive online games, which we recommended, of course: ‘Plymouth Point’, ‘The Mermaid’s Tongue’ and ‘The Kindling Hour’, all part of the ‘Isklander’ trilogy.

It was great to hear that, with lockdown over and in-person shows back, Swamp Motel have turned their attention towards creating a new live show, which is currently previewing.

To find out more about the new show, ‘The Drop’, I spoke to one of the co-creators behind it, Swamp Motel Creative Director Ollie Jones.

CM: Firstly, what can we expect from ‘The Drop’ in terms of narrative? What story does it tell?
OJ: ‘The Drop’ is an interactive immersive thriller. It places the audience at the heart of the action with an extremely active role to play. The story delves into the peculiar history of The Great Omar – a jewel-encrusted, gold-inlaid book – the most expensive ever made – that sank with the Titanic in 1912. It appears in strange moments throughout human history. Some believe it’s cursed. I can’t give away too much more.

CM: Have you pursued particular themes through the show?
OJ: Villainy, treachery, murder and danger.

CM: Can you explain how it works, format wise – how do things work for audience members? In what way is it immersive?
OJ: In ‘The Drop’, the audience is the central character. You are not led by a performer, neither do you explore a world around you that you cannot impact. You’ll begin your journey alone with your friends in a lift. The story will unfold from there.

CM: Lots of our readers will be familiar with your digital output of recent times – would you say this has a similar feel to that, in terms of tone and subject matter?
OJ: ‘Isklander’, our series of online experiences, deal with the uncovering and dismantling of a centuries old cult. It blurs the lines between fiction and reality by telling a story that weaves between the real world and the created world. Similarly ‘The Drop’ is a thriller in tone and parts of real history will find their way into the fictional story, however the narrative is completely new.

CM: How do you go about devising a show like this..? What does the creative process involve?
OJ: It comes in waves. First of all we had this amazing true story we wanted to incorporate, about The Great Omar and its fateful voyage aboard the Titanic. We then work out how best to tell it. Solutions come in waves, as we think about every tool that our audience will have to interact with to discover the next step in the story. Clarity, cohesion and entertainment are the core principles we have to make the story adhere to.

CM: How does creating a live show differ from creating digital shows? What are the challenges of producing each..?
OJ: It’s much harder to change anything in a live show. In fact it’s much harder to build too! We could test piece by piece with the online shows, with ‘The Drop’, due to the nature and schedule of the build, we won’t be running tests until almost everything is built and ready to go, but we have a spectacular team behind the scenes that are making some very outlandish ideas possible.

CM: How does it feel to be producing for in-person audiences again?
OJ: Very exciting! It’s been great to be back in the buzz of the site as it all comes together, and we’ve missed the head spinning, leg numbing fatigue that comes with the hours of getting something like this up and moving. The audience reactions are very different and visceral when it’s live and we can’t wait to see what emotions the experience brings out of people.

CM: How do you feel you did in getting through the pandemic period?
OJ: We were fortunate to create and release our first experience ‘Plymouth Point’ early on in the lockdown. It enjoyed some success and spawned the two sequels that formed the ‘Isklander’ trilogy. Thanks to these shows we were able to keep working and growing through lockdown, learning a lot about audience interaction in the process.

CM: What plans and ambitions do you have for the company in the future?
OJ: We’ve really loved being able to create these ambitious shows and experiences, both online and live. We will see where the ideas take us, but the pandemic definitely proved there’s an online world of experiences to be built for people to enjoy remotely and we’ll keep working to make exciting live experiences – as we always have done.

CM: What’s coming up next? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
OJ: Well, we are launching a sister experience to ‘The Drop’ which will take place entirely online. It will tell the same story from a different perspective and we hope it will be an exciting way for remote audiences to engage with the story without having to find their way to London. More on that to be announced very soon!

‘The Drop’ is currently previewing and opens on 13 Nov, running until 31 Dec, at 55 Aldgate High Street. For more information and to book tickets, see the show website here.