Royal College of Art

Thesis Project

JAN - JUN 2018

Created with   
Helen van Baal

Lighting by      
Peter Bridgman

Jonathan Chan /
Shankho Chaudhuri

With help from:
Harriet Campbell
Prithu Banerjee
Olivia Revans
Oscar Denihan
Shamini Bundell


This was the starting point of a five month excursion into the overlapping spheres of theatre, immersive storytelling, technology and the future, in collaboration with Helen van Baal as part of our major thesis project in the Global Innovation Design programme at the Royal College of Art.

With the booming of digital industries exploring Virtual and Augmented Reality, there is no doubt that the world of theatre will be touched and changed as these technologies become more commonplace. Our project was a chance to see what this synthesis might look like and offer a suggestion for a future form of storytelling and experience.
UNSCENE is an installation where the lighting, sound and projection are controlled by an audience’s interaction with different objects. It is an experiment.

We wanted to see how we might incorporate new technology into a theatrical setting, how this might affect the interaction of an audience, and an exploration of the workflows required to create such a piece of work. 

UNSCENE is a piece of speculative design that is the first step in a longer journey in this field. 


We decided early on that we didn’t want to create a headset experience, but rather, to speculate on how an installation might feel in a future where certain technological capacities are taken for granted. 

Moreover, one of the joys about theatre, both traditional and immersive, is the sense of presence and spatial awareness one can achieve, alongside the feeling of shared experience that only comes from being in the same environment as other members of the audience. The headset experience of current-day VR experiences is, by and large, a solitary one.

We chose instead to focus on the core functionality that such technology would allow - the ability to enter a world completely responsive to your touch and motion. We then imagined a scenario where one would be able to walk into a space and have it be responsive to your interaction.

The piece we created was therefore a proof-of-concept rather than a true technological realisation. We created a simple set of responsive objects that would change the lighting, play sound, and start projection based on which object was touched.

Portfolio Pages explaining the Technical Set Up

Demonstrating the lighting to different objects being touched / The basic projection mapping introduced into the space:

Keen to explore how theatre, immersive storytelling and virtual reality could handle topics around mental health, depression, loneliness and isolation, we created a space built around the character of a frustrated artist living in a world devoid of colour, one that was totally grey.

Our experience would invite an audience into her space, finding all the objects and surroundings a single shade of grey, with the idea being that by interacting with certain objects, they would be able to bring colour back into the space. Each object would contain a memory, a sample of her inner thoughts. By listening to different fragments of the narrative, the audience would be piecing together the character that lives in the space they are occupying.  

This gave us a clear idea for the set, for the story, and for the sort of changes we wanted to create using our technology. We asked the writer, Prithu Banerjee, to provide a script, that we then recorded with Olivia Revans, before filming our proof-of-concept videos with Harriet Campbell as our character. 



One of the key deliverables for this project was a trio of videos presenting the work in three distinct ways, each with a different time brief:

Video 1 - 15 seconds
Video 2 - 90 seconds
Video 3 - 6 minutes

We decided to use Video 1 purely as a narrative teaser. Inspired by the teasers created by the National Theatre, we created a montage of our character exisitng in the space, mixed with a soundscape of dialogue that cresencdos before glitching into an empty chair.

Video 2 is our main promotional item that could summarise the context and output of our work. We attempted to achieve this with a long tracking shot of an ‘audience’ breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the space. This involved a considerable amount of choreography of people and camera motion.

We chose to use Video 3 to explore our process and intent through a documentary style behind-the-scenes video. Using a talking-head setup, we both posed as if in an interview, cutting between our dialogue with shots and timelapses of the five months of work.
The creation of these videos was challenging work and required several weeks of editing and assembly. Managing the sound was a particular challenge, as there was considerable interference with the microphones. However, it was a risk that paid off and brought with it a huge amount of learning.

Special thanks must go to the team of collaborators I assembled to make the day of the shoot a success:

Helen van Baal Project Co-Lead

Peter Bridgman Lighting Designer

Harriet Campbell Actress

Prithu Banerjee Scriptwriter

Olivia Revans  Voice Narration

Oscar DenihanSound Editing

Shamini Bundell  Assistant Cinematography

UNSCENE Video 1 Teaser from Shankho Chaudhuri on Vimeo.

UNSCENE Video 2 - Promotional Trailer from Shankho Chaudhuri on Vimeo.