The Atom Room: A Wellington Collaboration

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford

Wellington has been named the world’s most liveable city for a second year in a row. As an artist living in this city it makes me very proud that our culture, community and environment is celebrated in this way. Life is good for us Wellingtonians in the early 21st century…. but what might the future hold?

Cue The Atom Room, a thrilling new play by award-winning Wellington playwright Philip Braithwaite that imagines what life might be like in our wonderful city in 150 years time. It’s a high-tech love story set in a future Wellington that’s, well, pretty messed up. Sea levels have risen, there’s been a major earthquake some time in the past and somewhere in the world someone pushed the big red nuke button, so the atmosphere’s stuffed. Yet still love remains.

I’m excited to be directing the premiere production of Philip’s script at Circa Theatre this June because it’s an opportunity for me to collaborate with a number of amazing Wellington artists to create a story-world that’s both familiar and challenging.

I’m working with an incredible local cast and design team to stage the world of the Atom Room inside the theatre … but we’re also pushing the story boundaries by inviting audiences to be part of a pre-show prologue while they’re still in the foyer. In a first for New Zealand theatre audiences we will introduce the futuristic Wellington world of the play in a virtual reality (VR) experience in the foyer before the play has even begun. Tony St George heads up Wellington’s Polytronik Studios and he is creating our VR experience that will transport audiences 150 years into the future. Those who choose to participate in the VR will put on a Hewlett Packard VR headset and discover they’re floating down Cuba Street towards the waterfront and into the space where Circa Theatre now sits.

Tony was introduced to my project through Jessica Manins, a fabulous creative thinker and leading light in the Wellington VR/AR space, connecting technologists, entrepreneurs and creatives in her roles at PROJECTR, Mixt and the Creative Realities Technology Conference. In our journey to gather research and insight into the perfect pre-show experience we’ve been helped by a range of great technologists, including Tim Rastall (NEC Smart Cities), James McLean (Story Inc) and James Manttan (Dusk). Thank you for all your insights; it’s exciting to hear about the interesting and creative work that’s happening in the VR/AR space in the city!

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, her dog Dougal and Paul Dodge and Ruth Carr of Minuit.

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, her dog Dougal and Paul Dodge and Ruth Carr of Minuit.


Another key collaborator on the project is the iconic band Minuit (Paul Dodge, Ruth Carr and Ryan Beehre) who are generously creating new and re-mixing previously released music to create a unique soundtrack for both the play and the VR pre-show. I am beyond excited about this collaboration because I have been a huge fan of their work for years.  Their music is a perfect match for the story - beautiful, beguiling, amping, haunting.

AV design is a big component within the theatre production and I’m lucky to have experienced Wellington VJs Ray Beals and Johanna Sanders on board to create the unique screen content. Their work will help transport audiences from futuristic Wellington, to Mars and back to memories from Wellington’s past.

Perhaps the most important collaboration for me is with Philip, the playwright.  I started talking with Philip a couple of years ago when he had a first draft of the script. I loved the story. I loved the setting - it oscillates between Wellington and Mars - and I loved the very Wellingtonness of the characters and the situation. Philip had been inspired to write this long distance love story based on his own experience with his now wife. I encouraged him to go further with the futuristic sci-fi possibilities in the story, to use his imagination to create a future world that might actually happen.  It’s a love story, a thriller, and I could imagine it being an episode within the TV series Black Mirror. I can’t wait for audiences to see the work we’ve created.

As I’m writing this I’m about to head into the final 2 weeks of rehearsals. There are many technical elements in this production that have to work in harmony to create an experience for the audience to truthfully believe the story we’re telling. I have a great team working with me who all believe in the power of collaboration.  I look forward to sharing the production with you. Hopefully our collaborative efforts will in turn inspire you to think twice about the environment we’re creating for future generations.

Book your tickets here.

The Atom Room
Circa Theatre, 9 June to 7 July 2018
Tickets $25 - $52


The Atom Room is proudly supported by Shoreline Partners.
The pre-show foyer VR prologue is proudly supported by Hell Pizza.

 Brian Steele is a director of Shoreline Partners, a supporter of The Atom Room.