Art & Events Interview Caro Meets

Ollie Jones: The Mermaid’s Tongue

By | Published on Friday 16 October 2020

Fans of immersive live entertainment may well have pricked up their ears last week when we recommended ‘The Mermaid’s Tongue’, an interactive game played via digital means, the latest online offering from experience-making company Swamp Motel.

Having recommended it, I was interested to know more about it and to get to know the company behind it: I spoke to co-founder and creative director Ollie Jones (pictured left, alongside co-founder Clem Garrity).

CM: Can you start by telling us how an online event like ‘The Mermaid’s Tongue’ works?
OJ: ‘The Mermaid’s Tongue’ is a team based immersive experience that begins in an online art class and teases you through a narrative told by visiting different corners of the internet – some real, some created – following clues, interacting with characters and slowly digging deeper into a dark conspiracy and a hunt for a vital artefact.

CM: What kinds of themes does the piece explore?
OJ: In terms of themes, I think there’s things in there about power, control, our relationship with the internet and trust.

CM: Some of our readers may be familiar with your earlier production ‘Plymouth Point’: are the two connected thematically? Is it better if you have seen ‘Plymouth Point’ first?
OJ: ‘The Mermaid’s Tongue’ is a loose sequel, and both are set in the same world. There’s overlap with ‘Plymouth Point’, but we’ve worked hard to make sure it can also be its own standalone experience and adventure. Those who have played ‘Plymouth Point’ will get a few kicks from some Easter eggs and overlaps.

CM: Are you planning further shows in this same series?
OJ: We are planning a final part to the trilogy…And maybe one or two other things besides.

CM: Can you give us a bit of background now as to what inspired you to create these interactive works? What made you want to do this?
OJ: Pre-COVID we solely did live experiences and, obviously, found this come to a horrible shuddering halt in late March, so started to think about whether you could do the same thing online. We thought there was something cool in discovering a password by investigating someone’s social media. Simultaneously we were reading about some fairly bonkers conspiracy theories and everything spiralled out from there. It was initially an experiment in seeing whether we could translate something we’d normally do in a warehouse into an online arena.

CM: Creating this kind of work has to be pretty different from, say, writing a traditional play script – can you tell us a bit about the creative process?
OJ: It’s a mix of the tools at our disposal – eg email, YouTube etc – their accessibility and drawing the story out over these assets – and balancing that storytelling between self-made discoveries and character interaction. It’s not like planning scenes, you think more in terms of chapters and information. A lot of the pacing needs to be refined towards the end of the process once it can be experienced as a whole, that’s when a lot of the imbalance starts to show and can then be corrected. There’s a lot of trial and error!

CM: Can you tell us about Swamp Motel and what it does? When did it come into being?
OJ: We started Swamp Motel in 2017 from a desire to see brands tell their stories through immersive experiences and to thrill their audiences in the same way that live theatre does, without the limitations. Now, we have a focus on creating immersive experiences across a variety of media.

CM: How did lockdown affect your plans?
OJ: It very nearly finished the business off initially. We all know how quickly it landed on us and stopped everything. We had to pivot quite drastically and quite suddenly, but it forced us into playing around with what would eventually become our first online show – that was ‘Plymouth Point’ – which led us to ‘The Mermaid’s Tongue’.

CM: Over the last few months a lot of companies have been coming up with innovative online ways of delivering cultural experiences. Would you expect this burgeoning to extend beyond the pandemic into ‘normal’ times?
OJ: I think it’s very hard to say. The future is currently so unpredictable. If and when a vaccine comes into effect and spaces become legitimately safe again, then I’m sure there’s going to be a huge appetite for live experiences. We’re definitely excited about that time when we can start making physical experiences again. What that means for online is anyone’s guess – but I’m sure there’s always going to be an appeal in having genuinely great immersive experiences that you can jump into with your friends from the comfort of your own home.

CM: What hopes and aims do you have for a post-COVID future?
OJ: I think we’re hopeful that things can return to normal, that the arts can flourish again. It’s an industry full of incredibly hard working and resourceful individuals and organisations that give an enormous amount to communities and to entertainment. Hopefully live and online can share and both do well alongside each other. From a Swamp Motel point of view, we hope to go back to doing live experiences as well as continuing to make experiences for the online world.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
OJ: We’re going to start working on that final part of the trilogy. We’re also collaborating on a really exciting Hallowe’en project which involves tonnes of new tech elements that we’re working alongside for the first time.

‘The Mermaid’s Tongue’ is on until 6 Nov. See this page here for more information and to book your tickets.

LINKS: | |