Review: Augmented Chinatown 2.0, Chinese Arts Now

An app, a walking tour, audio dramas, augmented reality and music, Augmented Chinatown 2.0 is definitely looking to the future here

“What actually is the Chinese history of this area?”

You have to admire an arts festival that is determined to push boundaries and with Augmented Chinatown 2.0, the Chinese Arts Now Festival is certainly doing that. Download the app onto your phone and a brave new world of augmented reality, specially commissioned music and audio drama is yours, as you’re taken on a walking tour around London’s Chinatown.

It’s a bold and expansive project and as with many technologically-forward things, some aspects work better than others. Playwright Joel Tan’s script is beautifully composed, blending historical detail with socio-cultural commentary to delve into the layers of these Soho streets, of which Chinatown is just the latest. It really does manage that wonderful trick of making you see familiar sights anew (look out for those floor mosaics!).

At various points on the tour, you have the opportunity to stop and listen to miniature hyper-local audio plays and these are the moments when the augmented reality comes into play. It takes a little getting used to, building strange forests or 60s nightclub vistas or rows of beautlful poppies and in some ways, it can distract a little from listening properly to the dramas.

That said, the artistic vision of app developer/AR artist Donald Shek and director/co-composer An-Ting Chang is certainly fascinating. And the opportunity to be able to visit and revisit the various stops on the journey means that you really can take the time to explore its multiple realms of possibilities. Is this the future? Who knows, but it is worth investigating.

Please note that the Google Play version of the app only includes music and the audio tour.

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