All aboard for a theatrical multimedia quest to save a city's ancient lost pearl
Jackie Butler talks to the writer behind a unique new adventure in modern storytelling.
How do you tell the hidden historical stories of a city in a way that fires our imaginations, paints pictures in our heads, challenges our detective skills and, above all, entertains?
In this digital age it makes sense to employ every little trick in the book – both theatrical and technological. And that's exactly the pioneering concept which is blossoming in the groundbreaking hands of fantasy-loving writer Hannah Wood and her crack team of visionary partners.
Resurgam is a unique multimedia quest to find the fictional Lost Pearl of Plymouth and it will spill out in the streets of the city when it debuts next weekend.
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As a unique entity, it blurs the boundaries; it can't be neatly categorised as a drama, a promenade performance, an interactive gaming challenge or a pirate shindig, for it is all of those things – directed by a specially crafted mobile phone app that will direct participants to various locations on the hunt for significant clues.
Everyone who enrols for Resurgam and secures their ticket to ride can download the app and engage with its mysteries as much as they like in advance. Some folk are already spending hours interacting with Resurgam's central character – Cara Jones, who even has her own very active Twitter account.
Portrayed by international movie actress Jaala Pickering, she is billed as a lecturer in Marine Science at Plymouth University; she even has a staff profile on the university website, even though, strictly speaking, she doesn't exist.
But for the purposes of this tale, she is a world expert on the legend of the Pearl. Her research revealed that the it originated from the ancient legendary lost continent of Atlantis. Many believe Atlanteans were an advanced civilisation, magicians of sorts, able to harness immense renewable energy fields, and she feels their power is re-emerging.
So she is issuing an urgent appeal for help to find the Pearl before the city slips beneath the waterline to be claimed by gruesome sea monsters who swarm the streets.
That's where the players come in, aided by sea-soaked characters from Plymouth's nautical past in corners of the city with their own tales to tell. Beginning the adventure at a yet-to-be-revealed secret, central location, the two- or three-hour (depending on how quickly you progress) hunt will culminate in a final performance and party with live music from three bands – sea shanty outfits Tobacco Road and Seas of Mirth and the deliciously eccentric Phat Bollard – on board an eerie ghost ship.
It sounds like a refreshing blast of fun, but also incredibly ambitious and fraught with peril, as Hannah, a 32-year-old former journalist, freely acknowledges. It's essentially a collaboration between Hannah's multi- platform storytelling agency Story Juice, i-DAT, a National Portfolio Organisation of the Arts Council England based at Plymouth University, Mutant Labs, an award-winning digital studio specialising in online and mobile games, and Cornwall's Rogue Theatre, renowned for their deeply engaging, daring, high-quality, site-specific and easily accessible theatre experiences.
With 400 players and another 100 actors, technicians, extras, stewards and musicians in the mix, indoor and outdoor locations and a reliance on the wonders of technology, she's all too aware that there could be hiccups anywhere along the line.
"I'm excited and nervous at the same time. We are making something completely new; this is our first go and we are going to learn a lot, " says Hannah, who wrote the initial Resurgam story sitting at her dining room table in the Millbay apartment she shares with her husband, inspired by her view of the ocean that has for centuries had such an impact on the people of Plymouth.
The title – meaning "I will rise again" – comes from the spirit-boosting inscription on a wooden board fixed over the north porch door of the ruined St Andrew's Church in the heart of the city, which was bombed during the Second World War.
"Resurgam became a sort of talisman for the city," says Hannah.
It was perhaps inevitable that she would pen something that combines her love of a hero's adventure with elements of the supernatural and comic book culture.
Born in Plymouth and raised in Cornwall, her father, Charlie Wood, like his own father was a Merchant Navy sea captain. She recalls joining him on board ship for unglamorous childhood ocean trips into the North Sea. She says his immersive approach to living and working at sea and in different places around the world informed her own desire to engage with the world.
Hannah has always had a vivid imagination, fuelled by an early love of fiction – she devoured Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven, teenage detective Nancy Drew, and Treasure Island. The 19th-century smuggling novel Moonfleet was the first "big" book she remembers reading, and she became engrossed in the works of American horror author HP Lovecraft. Films with magical, adventure or fantasy themes also charmed her – movies like The Never Ending Story and the Indiana Jones series. Lara Croft, from the Tomb Raider games and films, is one of her favourite heroines.
Hannah delights in the prospect of introducing some of Plymouth's great characters like Sir Francis Drake and Nancy Astor to the public through the Resurgam exploration.
A former pupil of Liskeard School, she grew to love the city and its heroes and heroines while working as a reporter on our sister paper, The Herald. She moved to London to work on The Mirror's news website and soaked up all the digital knowledge available, but was uninspired by her role regurgitating other people's stories. What she really wanted to do was write short fiction and poetry.
Returning to the Westcountry, she studied for a masters, then a PHd at Exeter University. Much broader opportunities opened up for her on a Skillset multi-level writing and production course, and then a trip to an international transmedia story-telling gathering in San Francisco. Gradually all the building blocks fell into place to enable Hannah to try something truly innovative that has wings to fly much further.
To find out more or to enrol for the Resurgam challenge in Plymouth from 5pm on Saturday, September 21, visit resurgamthegame.co.uk.