Have you ever wondered what cage diving amongst sharks might be like? What it’s like to be suspended within the calm and darkened waters of the deep ocean, with only a few steel bars separating you from one of Earth’s most majestic (and feared) creatures?
If, like so many people, the idea of a cage dive fascinates but scares you, then Erth’s latest production, Shark Dive, is an experience you may want to dive into. Performed for the first time in the 2023 Brisbane Festival Program, our team at Brisbane Kids delved beneath the imaginary waves to experience the immersive performance ourselves. Below is our review.
Who is Erth?
Erth is a physical and visual theatre company that has pushed boundaries in puppetry for over 30 years. Focused on sustainability, conservation, and social justice, their work includes projects like Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo and Prehistoric Aquarium.
Today, the company is recognised internationally as an innovator of physical and visual theatre and a creator of brave, unbridled work for children.
What is Erth’s Shark Dive?
Have you ever wanted to dive with sharks but been too afraid? Don’t be! In Erth’s Shark Dive, visitors are invited to experience what it may be like to come within inches of a Great White – all without getting wet or being in any danger.
The clever team at Erth, renowned for their lifelike puppets and performance art, have created a deep-sea experience above land, where ‘divers’ can observe the sharks and other water animals as they pass around their central cage.
With two choices of audio adventure to help bring the performance to life as well as educate you on shark conservation, you can either marvel in awe at their serene beauty or experience a high-energy, thrill-filled escapade.
No diving experience is needed, but keep your eyes peeled and your mind open!
The Shark Dive Experience
When you first enter the Flipside Circus Warehouse, it is hard to believe that you are at the location of your shark dive. The light, bright and airy waiting area contrasts the inner ocean depths that lie waiting, large black curtains separating the two worlds effectively from each other.
As you step through the curtains, the light quickly seeps away and the outside world is instantly forgotten as the dark and quiet surrounds of Erth’s decompression chamber surround you.
Within the narrow confines of the chamber, divers line each side of the wall, facing each other. Our host instructs us on our upcoming dive, which is quite realistic and made to feel as though we are actually heading into the ocean.
At one end of the corridor is a line of light-up headphones and, at the other end, a locked compression door.
We are informed about safety precautions, hand signals and breathing techniques, and are handed cool facecloths to place over our faces – the soothing feeling aimed to help ‘slow and regulate our breathing for the 12 minute dive below the surface’.
We are asked to select an audio track for our adventure. Purple-lit headphones indicate a safe and calming experience, while the white ones are the ‘risk’ adventure version. 90% of our group has their hands up for the white headphones, with the younger participants opting for the safer version.
We are then lined up single file as the compression door swings open and we climb through into the watery cave beyond.
Cage Shark Dive
On the other side of the door, we are led into a black warehouse space, with soothing underwater sounds engulfing us. The entire room is a deep, dark blue colour, with haze and rays of light filtering down from above; their movement reflecting those that had broken the ocean surface and swirling gently below. Here, we are led into our cage; the group easily fitting into the space before the door is shut.
And then, we wait; patient, nervous and unknowing, as our audio tracks begin. Information about the ocean environment, the creatures that live within it, the sharks we are about to see, and our impact on them filters soothingly into our ears, set against a deep-water soundtrack.
Gracefully, the first underwater creatures and puppets arrive. First, a school of fish swims by the cage, and a stingray follows shortly after. But it was the sharks we all came for, and within minutes they arrive, large, majestic and lifelike.
Although clearly puppets, they still give off a very realistic feel as they gracefully swim towards and over our cage.
For 12 minutes, the cage occupants stand silently, spellbound, as they turn slowly to admire the creatures of the deep.
The Observation Room
As the last of the sharks swim away and the door finally opens, our group is led to a small observation room that looked back onto the cage we’ve come from.
Here, we take a seat and watch from behind a sheer curtain as the next group of ‘divers’ enter the cage. It’s a different perspective of the experience we just had; this time we watch on and observe quietly, almost as if from the shark’s point of view.
Our audio continues, now talking more about our impact on the environment, our similarities to ocean creatures and the impact we have on them. We are handed small paper cups filled with water before being asked to drink them slowly, feeling as the water (which makes up 80% of our body) filters down within us.
When the performance was over, we leave the space, handing back our headphones and blinking rapidly as we depart the quiet, dark environment and step back into the daylight.
Erth’s Shark Dive – Our Review
Our family of five, with kids aged 13, 11 and 8, may have been unsure of what to expect when we arrived for our Shark Dive, but we were also keen to find out. Underwater enthusiasts with a keen sense of adventure, I was not surprised when five sets of hands shot straight up as the ‘risk’ audio version was offered up.
The compression chamber at the start of the performance was a fantastic idea. Rather than just stepping straight into the cage environment, this room helped to set the scene, creating a build-up of tension and excitement for the adventure that awaited us all. My son, aged 8, actually listed his favourite part of the entire experience as the moment the compression room door swung open and he clambered through the circular space that linked the chamber to the underwater world.
The actual cage dive space experience was only short (12 minutes in the cage and then 12 minutes observing it after), but this felt like just the right amount of time. The shark puppets were incredibly lifelike, in both their physical form and movement, and, coupled with the lighting, atmosphere and audio track, it really helped create the illusion that we could be in the underwater cage with them nearby.
As they had gone to so much effort creating the environment, and knowing of Erth’s puppetry and creature creation talents, I would have loved to have seen even more underwater animals within the environment. There were also a couple of times that our headsets ran out of power, but this was quickly resolved by the staff.
For anyone questioning if this experience would be too scary for little ones, I would say no. Erth is well-versed in creating performances for children and this experience is no different. Our ‘risk’ audio was soothing and not scary at all, and it is clear that, while creating a visual environment, these are still human-operated puppets.
This experience can easily be regarded as a family-friendly performance. Not only is it engaging, entertaining and immersive, but it is a standout way to teach children about our oceans, the animals that inhabit them, and conservation in a way that they will take in and talk about long after they leave too.
What Ages is Erth’s Shark Dive Best Suited For?
Erth’s Shark Dive is listed as being suitable for ages 5 and over. We think that this is a very reasonable age range, as we had younger children and adults in the cage alongside us for our ‘dive’.
Although the atmosphere, lighting and effects are all reminiscent of being underwater, and the sharks themselves quite lifelike, their gentle movements, combined with the soothing audio information and music, actually make for quite a serene and peaceful experience.
I saw adults watching and taking in the information and young kids enjoying the experience too. I even heard one small boy, maybe only 6 years old, whisper, “Hello little sharky”, as the Great White came up close, teeth bared.
For younger children, maybe choose the ‘Play Safe’ headset audio for a more gentle soundscape to their experience. Older kids and adults will enjoy the ‘risk’ audio, which is still not scary but a little more atmospheric and realistic of a shark dive.
Dates: 17th – 29th September, 2023
Age Recommendation: 5+ years
Location: Brisbane Circus Centre (Flipside Circus Warehouse), 221 MacArthur Ave, Northshore, Hamilton
Running Time: 40 minutes (no interval)
Cost: $29 per person
Bookings: Click here for bookings (Auslan interpreted and relaxed sessions also available).
Brisbane Festival Program Page: Brisbane Festival