England Expects

Style: Online game-style prequel
Where: Zoom

Rating: 5/5 stars

As regular readers of this blog will know, Parabolic Theatre can rarely go wrong for me. I adored For King and Country (both iterations) and have loved so many other experiences they have presented me with.

But I’ll admit I was nervous the first time I did England Expects. So much of the new online experiences can feel rushed and slightly slapdash – born more of the boredom of players in lockdown than the precision that governs the best immersive storytelling.

I will also admit that this was my second time playing England Expects. The first time I was a bit knackered and a bit grumpy. That I enjoyed myself enough to book to go back when I was feeling livelier speaks for itself.

This is a prequel to For King and Country and there are occasional nods to that show in it. But those are Easter Eggs for us die hards. If you haven’t seen the originals it won’t make the slightest bit of difference to your enjoyment of this one. The cast may have a few familiar faces, but the characters are quite different.

Depending on which boat (ship? I know there’s a difference and I know sailors get upset by landlubbers like me not knowing the difference) you sign on to, you will be sent on a series of missions. Sometimes as part of your whole crew and sometimes as a side mission with just a select few of you. No matter what role you take, you will have an interesting task throughout.

Your job is to undertake these missions to ensure the best protection of British vessels, British naval interests and British intelligence. There will be decisions made throughout that will affect your ultimate fate and all of you will play a part in these.

This show uses Zoom, but it uses a lot of other tech besides. Read the pre-instructions to ensure as smooth an experience as possible. But it is worth saying it uses Zoom very well. The breakout rooms and the crashing from room to room is woven into the atmosphere and made best use of.

The joy of the show is you’re never bored. There is always something coming at you. A decision to be made, a puzzle to solve or a fight to be lived through – and hopefully won. All the thinking that goes into the real life experience of immersive has been used here to ensure that even sitting alone in my living room on a saturday night swigging Cava, I didn’t feel like a sad sack – I felt like a Captain, a member of the resistance, a liberator.

There’s something about the way Parabolic invoke the spirit of the second world war that works so well for me. It’s the emotional opposite of the way Farage and co do. Parabolic never let you forget – even as you’re having a great time – that war is hell and that it involves really tough decisions. This isn’t nostalgia for an era that never existed. It’s history as a living, breathing experience. Even if – for now – we aren’t living and breathing in each other’s spaces.

This show took me out of my funk for the night. At the moment, that’s a hard ask. That it was done with typical Parabolic wit, panache and energy was perhaps to be Expected of England Expects. But, like victory, it can never be taken for granted.

England Expects can be booked here.

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