The chances of anything coming from Mars…

On a recent trip to London, a friend and I went along to Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience. Billed as “the only place in London where you can experience a real Martian invasion” how could we not go?

The show, for want of a better word, is being staged in the historic Hallmark Building on Leadenhall Street. For years, it was home to the London Metal Exchange and was the perfect setting for this. Even the windows look right for what’s going on inside.

Once you check-in at the venue, you’re assigned a “team” with whom you’ll experience the Martian invasion. You’re issued with a wrist band which makes it easier to know where to go. Amusingly, the young man who checked us in got mixed up so we were double-tagged 🙂

Deathly pale Irish skin alert!

And so, on to the experience itself. It’s described as being a mixture of live-action, multi-sensory effects and virtual reality. It follows the plotline of the 1978 Jeff Wayne album and either uses music and songs straight off that album or a score adapted from there. Really nice. At the beginning of the tour, we were greeted by a lady in Victorian dress who explained the ground rules and how to adjust the magical headwear we’d be popping on later on. By now everyone had put their phones away (no harm in that!) and were doing their best to pretend they were back in the early 1900s. And so, on to the show. Over the next hour and three quarters, we made our way through the set. Sometimes the settings were indoors, such as in people’s houses or outdoors (Horsell Common, most notably). Without spoiling too much, the first part largely involved live actors and sets, holograms and a surprise special effect or two. All of it was enjoyable but things really stepped up a gear once we got to wear the Virtual Reality headsets. I had never worn any sort of VR equipment before so it was great to experience it in such a spectacular way.

My first introduction to Virtual Reality here was a boat trip down the Thames and out to sea, soundtracked by Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn”. At the start of the boat trip (in which we were sitting in an actual wooden boat), it’s nice and pleasant and autumnal. By the end of it, London’s not looking too good after being trashed by those pesky Martians and we’re out at sea. Rough seas at that! It certainly felt real and that’s the praise the creators are after. Some of the footage can be seen in this short trailer by Layered Reality, the company staging this.

Half way through, there’s a chance to stop and have a drink at the Red Weed bar. This was a welcome break because experiencing a Martian invasion first-hand is thirsty work. A toilet is never unwelcome either, it has to be said.

It was all good fun, with the good-humoured actors adept at thinking on their feet when interacting with dumb members of the public. Special praise should go out to the lady who has undoubtedly heard those jokes about telephones never catching on about 5 squillion times. After surviving (spoiler alert!) the Martian invasion, we returned to real life and the bar outside.

Martian fighting machine in the bar

Overall, it comes highly recommended. One minor quibble, which has nothing to do with show itself, is about the VR headsets. I wear glasses most of the time and would have found life a little bit easier if I’d popped in a pair of contact lenses before going to this. My specs didn’t spoil the experience by any means but they sometimes made taking the headsets on and off a bit of a faff. Anyway, enough of that. If you are thinking of going, keep an eye out for special promotions or vouchers to reduce the entry cost.

On a final note, when my friend and I walked outside afterwards and looked up along the street, we noted that The Gherkin seemed to be looming over us ominously…

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