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This Immersive Multimedia Experience Is Bringing The Ocean Back To The SS Great Britain

Alice Lorenzato-Lloyd Alice Lorenzato-Lloyd - Staff Writer

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Prepare to be immersed in this multi-sensory exhibit.

Brunel’s SS Great Britain is one of the top-rated visitor attractions in Bristol, and for some it’s a right of passage visiting here whether it was back in the day on a school trip or showing your friends and family from elsewhere what the city has to offer. However, this trip to the iconic ship could be rather different as for the first time in 50 years the sights, sounds and movement of a living sea will surround the ship’s hull.

On a typical visit, sightseers will discover two interactive museums along with the historic dockyard before stepping aboard to explore the SS Great Britain herself – the world’s first great ocean liner. However, from 23 August to 19 September, the dramatic dry dock will take centre-stage.

The cathedral-like space is where the SS Great Britain was constructed between 1839 and 1843, now covered with a “glass sea” that helps to maintain the conservation environment that protects the fragile iron hull. For four weeks, the front end of the Grade II listed dry dock will be transformed into an immersive experience by Bristol-based multimedia design studio Limbic Cinema.

The immersive multimedia experience will combine projection, lighting and surround sound to transport audiences on a journey through underwater worlds. Much of the 1,000 square metres of laminated glass overhead will be darkened, providing a truly unique space for projection-mapped imagery to emerge on the walls and the iron hull.

There will also be speakers set within the dry dock playing an original score composed by Joe Acheson, which will resonate with music and sounds of the ocean. In addition, performance poet, Saili Katebe, has written a new spoken word piece for this installation, which leads the narrative. Having undertaken two residencies previously at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Saili’s creative response explores themes of invention, discovery, migration and freedom.

Saili Katebe, a writer and performer based in South West England said: “The ship carried thousands of people to America and Australia – many of them leaving home forever. She still bears the cargo of their stories – so much hope, fear and ambition. I imagined the ship as an island made of iron, something which stays strong even in the upheaval of change and challenge.”

Visitors will descend under the glass sea to walk around the iron hull, becoming immersed in the multisensory storytelling as they reach the bow. The events depicted through the storytelling are developed from passenger diaries, providing a real sense of revisiting the ship’s long and dramatic history.

Set in three acts – ‘departure’, ‘storm’ and ‘icefield’- the audience is taken on a journey that sets off across the ocean, encountering various sea life before a storm has the ship rising and falling in the waves with thunder and lightning all around. Glowing icebergs signal a more reflective pace as the ship navigates carefully through an icefield.

Kate Rambridge, Head of Interpretation and Programming at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, said: “The SS Great Britain rests today back in her original dry dock, but she was designed for a completely different environment – the world’s oceans. In fact, this astonishing ship travelled more than a million miles at sea, and she still carries traces of salt in her iron hull. Although she’ll never sail again, digital multimedia can bring the sea back to the ship and show how she performed in that element – so that audiences can see her, once again, as resilient, graceful and dynamic.”

Entry is included with admission to Brunel’s SS Great Britain. Time slots are available to book now from August 23 to 19 September 19.  Plus, on September 2, a ‘museum late’ will allow people to book to see Iron Island and explore the ship ‘after hours’, featuring pop-up bars offering an exclusive Iron Island cocktail, prosecco and full bar.

Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Road, BS1 6TY

Read more: Luke Jerram’s Museum Of The Moon Has Arrived At Bristol Cathedral For The Summer