Struggling to sleep? What if I told you that you could manifest anything you want during sleep by exploring the concept of lucid dreaming? I, and some of the other Love Popups London team went to find out more at interactive experience Somnai earlier this week.
Upon entering the Sleep clinic – an unassuming black building just a short walk from Old Street station that you could easily miss if you’re not looking for it- we’re asked to change into our pyjamas, hand over our belongings then checked in as patients complete with patient ID wristbands to identify us and heart rate monitors. We’re taken into the facility in pairs where we have our heads scanned with no explanation whatsoever before being asked to remove our shoes and put on dressing gowns that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a 5 star hotel spa. Once all six of us have been processed it’s time to enter our dreams.
What happens over the next hour is difficult to explain without giving too much away in spoilers. The actors are incredibly good at being creepy and set you on edge a little which I think is exactly the tone they are going for. The show is a heady mix of live action immersive theatre where we are asked personal questions about our hearts desires and read a “bedtime” story by one of the characters interspersed with three virtual reality sections.
These sections are a great showcase for what VR can be used for; for the first we remain in a single spot but can look 360degrees around, the second is the most impressive of the three in my opinion as we are guided around a variety of scenes which despite the unrealistic graphics feel very real indeed made even more so by several physical copies in the “real world”. At one stage we cross a bridge with missing slats – I am able to hold on to the sides of the bridge as I carefully step over the holes and my vertigo creeps in even though I am fully aware that I’m walking on solid ground and there is zero chance of me plummeting to my death. The final VR section in which you lay still in a bed is the least impressive in my opinion – perhaps because I was hoping for a proper ending to make sense of everything that had come before but didn’t get.
Lack of story is my biggest gripe with the Somnai experience. Many of the rooms we are led through are pure white or black with very little going on – it almost feels as though we are just being held there (which of course could very well be the case, groups enter the show up to every 10 minutes) and the few rooms which are much more richly decorated we don’t spend much time in at all. It’s also a very linear experience – there is one point where the group was split up and a choice needs to be made but other than that everyone has the same experience as everyone else taking part.
I did feel very immersed in what was happening and kind of forgot about everything else going on outside our little group of 6 – there was only one part of the show where I was jolted out of it a little as some doors slammed nearby. Sound bleed can be a big challenge in these kind of promenade shows but this was literally the only moment throughout that I noticed anything which was great. The best way I can describe the experience as a whole is like being inside an episode of Black Mirror.
I did enjoy our debrief in the bar afterwards though – the theme of which changes every 30 minutes or so. Here you can enjoy a cocktail or two along with some nibbles and check out the app that goes along with the show. There’s a cool augmented reality feature that makes your drink look like it’s got jellyfish coming out of it and you’re meant to be able to see how your heart rate reacted while you “slept” but unfortunately this never updated for myself or anyone else I was with. I also still have no idea whatsoever why we were scanned right at the start of the evening although this could be another feature of the app that didn’t work for us.
Tickets for Somnai were originally priced at £50 but this seems to have been reduced permanently to £35 which I think is a far more reasonable price. There is also a VIP package which at £47 includes a cocktail and a hologram viewer whatever that is. As the cocktails are just under a tenner each this isn’t really value for money in my opinion so I’d suggest sticking with the regular ticket.
If you’re interested in either immersive theatre experiences or virtual reality I’d definitely recommend checking it out though – it’s a unique experience for those who like to give anything a go and it’s fun trying to explain to people what you got up to last night!