Review: The Unholy Marriage of Slice and Sweetly

Twins Six Unholy small 1
Sarah Alexandra Marks as Maud/Meredith Sweetly

Style: Immersive Murder Mystery
Where: 55 Southwark Street
When: Currently booking until 6th September

Rating: 5/5 stars

Not suitable for those with mobility issues.

By the people who brought you Dead Quiet, this is another fascinating immersive murder mystery. Here, the vicar has been stabbed on the wedding day of local gang leader’s son Jim Slice and you are brought back to watch all the action of the day in the atmospheric space of an East End church.

Like with Dead Quiet, this had three distinct acts. In the first, you are allocated a character to follow. This you do diligently, following them around the church, into nooks and crannies, vestries and belltowers. As you go along you learn more and more about the dodgy dealings and goings-on of this 1950 crime family.

All post-war life is here – and all of it is tinged with the recent memory of that war. There are people who were lost and people who feel lost. The real Bethnal Green Tube Disaster is an integral part of the plot as is the real bombing of the host church.

The live action ends with all the characters together, cleverly part-shielded from the audience and the stabbing of Reverend Gris.

At this point, teams reconvene, gather for refreshments and bring together their stories and exchange clues and theories.

Up to this point, the action has been largely promenade rather than immersive, but that all changes in the second half. Now that the action has been established – and all but the actual murder witnessed by at least some of the audience, it is now time we come into our own, given 5 minutes to interview each witness.

Jimbo Slice Unholy
Lawton Charman and Jim Slice

There are many excellently placed red herrings in the stories that played out in the first half and the questioning can take you down routes that are a long way from relevant or important to the final outcome. Much as a good detective fiction will do. It can feel frustrating, but at the same time exhilarating to follow these trails, unsure which to take and where they might lead. And at the end, each group is asked to make a choice as to who they thought did the crime. As it happens this time – unlike with Dead Quiet (which I think I under reviewed and deserved 4 stars on reflection) – I felt a lot more invested in the denouement where the victim and murderer tell their tales. I also got it right this time – but was far less sure about it!

The Unholy Marriage… is a superb collision of the atmosphere of the venue, the history of the area and a well-plotted and engaging drama that throws you into the heart of the action. It offers three very different acts – all of which were tightly plotted, gripping and excellently directed. The story was complex and demanding and the timing of the different scenes – ensuring that everyone was where they were supposed to be at the same time as making sure the audience got the experience required was extraordinary so well done to director Rosanna Malinson for achieving that so smoothly.

Some people don’t like weddings. I’m not one of them. I love a good wedding, I love a good murder mystery and this was the perfect combination of the two. An excellent way to spend an evening. Slice off a sweet moment to savour this event.

Advertisements

Review: Spy City

IMG_7507
Adam Lannon and Robert Thompson. Photo credit lmcdphotography

Style: Intense Spy Game
Where: 55 Southwark Street
When: Currently booking until end August.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Not suitable for those with mobility issues.

Spy City is a huge and sprawling, ambitious and highly engaging action adventure in which the audience are as much the stars as the (very impressive) cast.

Colab Theatre has become a byword for quality in immersive theatre. The thought, care and attention they put into their shows has never left me less than wholly impressed. And Spy City is no exception.

The action is driven along from the start where you interact with your mobile phone (make sure your phone has a decent charge on it – this will be very helpful) and gain access to a secret world. But while the action predominantly takes place in two indoor venues, a large portion is outside, wandering around London Bridge, interacting with cast members and running around like you’re James Bond with mates.

IMG_7010
Catherine Blindell. Photo credit lmcdphotography

the main difference between Spy City and previous Colab productions I have enjoyed is that while the audience’s actions drive the plot, there are fewer choices to be made. This isn’t a criticism – it’s just a different type of immersion. This was more problem solving and throwing yourselves into a pre-ordained plot and given the area it was spaced over and the need to ensure that the production moves along in time it is totally understandable.

In the end though, the audience is forced to make a choice. One they debate and decide among themselves and one that asks a great deal of them. It’s a choice that makes us search for moral absolutes where there are none and a choice that I am still pondering the next day.

Spy City is great fun. Who doesn’t want to be a secret agent running around London trying to avoid detection by guards and counter-agents alike? Who doesn’t love a walkie talkie? Who doesn’t want to outfox an evil scientist trying to use your blood for a nefarious purpose? That is also makes you ponder deeper political questions afterwards? Well that’s the Colab bonus.

 

 

 

Review: The Murder Express

Style: Dining theatre
WherePedley Street Station

Rating: 3/5 stars

This was my third Pedley Street experience having previously reviewed Journey to the Underworld and The Greatest Snowman. As always the food was exceptional and the show light-hearted and fun.

However, as more and more companies are doing immersive dining now, it seems that Funicular are pulling back from the more audience-led elements. So while murder express was silly, fun and charming, it wasn’t immersive.

The story is simple. Part murder mystery, part farce it’s a broad comedy which sends up all the cliches of a murder mystery in ways that put a smile on my face (as did the rather lethal absinthe cocktails!).

This isn’t a show that will change your life, but it was a great deal of fun. It’s worth the price tag for the meal alone but despite it being less involved than other shows, the action definitely adds key elements to the evening’s entertainment.

It may be frothy rather than meaty, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

Review: Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience.

Audiences are thrown headfirst into the battle between Martian and human, as they take part in the war and fight for themselvesStyle: Terrifying Immersive Musical
Where: 56 Leadenhall Street
When: Currently booking until end August.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Not suitable for those with mobility issues or epilepsy.

Dum Dum Dum (da da dum, da da dum)… Dum Dum Dum (da da dum, da da dum).

These iconic bars from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds are world famous. You know you were humming them – admit it.

The original 1978 album featuring artists as diverse as Richard Burton, David Essex and Phil Lynott has long been an absolute favourite of mine. In fact, I know every word. My best friend and I used to sing Spirit of Man to each other constantly, especially enjoying  “No Nathanial No!” or pretending to be Lynott’s mad vicar.

To match what has been living in my imagination for over 30 years was going to take some doing. But this delivered in spades.

image1
Emma Burnell (Left) and Shanine Salmon (Right) meet Jeff Wayne (Centre)

This is a HUGE experience. It roams from world to world, set to set, experience to experience. Like Somnai a previous production from Dot Dot this uses a lot of VR. But this was more sparing and for me it worked much better. the boat sequence, the scene inside the Martian ship and the final Air Balloon journey were all particularly good. But they were also augmented by a lot of excellent real interactions with the superb cast.

What I liked about this experience is it was genuinely terrifying in parts. They didn’t hold back from that. There were moments that were physcially challenging, moments that were psychologically challenging and moments that were both. All with an excellent soundtrack that had me dancing along even as I was being terrified!

Scan.jpeg
The cast were considerably less hammy than I am here.

I enjoyed myself throughout the War of the Worlds Immersive Experience. The second half was pacier than the first half, but both had really strong moments. I was grinning from ear-to-ear when I emerged. It’s bloody good fun with a bloody good soundtrack. In fact I would say the chances of Anyone coming to this and not enjoying themselves are a million to one.

 

 

Review: Drawing the Line

Style: Interactive self-aware storytelling
Where: Deptford Lounge
When: Until 25th May

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Drawing the line takes place in a room that looks rather like a school gymnasium. Between that and the fact that the ‘line’ is literally represented by a thick piece of rope suspiciously like those we were made to climb as children and this show started by evoking some bad memories.

Thankfully, despite there being plenty of school style activities to take part in, including chalk drawing, building blocks and an interesting take on dodgeball,  this was the last moment I felt that choking fear that anyone was going to make me climb anything.

Drawing the line is a really sweet, really beautiful and well thought out piece. Where it has limitations, in budget and scope, it finds self-referential ways to laugh through them. Where is has confusion, it makes that an explicit part of the storytelling.

DtL_QuickSelection_100519-5.jpg
Elliot Hughes at one of the Guardians. Credit: Rosie Powell Freelance

What I like most about this show is that it doesn’t look like it cost the Earth, yet it still lets you lose yourself in its world. It’s not heavy on set like other shows, but it combines interesting elements of modelling, puppetry and simple imaginative fun to explore important political themes of division and unity, relative strength and weakness, insiders and outsiders and how the rules work – and don’t work.

The messages sometimes threaten to be heavyhanded, but in truth, the humour of the piece allows that to be drawn back from every time. The playfulness belies the seriousness of the message without undercutting it.

The three performers, Nisa Cole as the Lineswoman and Steph Reynolds and writer and Director Elliot Hughes as the Guardians are all utterly charming. They take what the audience throws at them in good grace and humour. They led the games particularly well at the performance I witnessed which was an accessible performance for those with visual impairments. Never patronising, never leading but always aware of what we could and couldn’t do.

There are some rough edges to the show, but for the most part, they belong there. They are part of what humanises this charming and captivating show. I would be interested to see what this group can and will do with a bigger budget, but I am also really grateful for the demonstration that interactive theatre doesn’t have to be high end to be high class.

 

Review: Crisis, What Crisis?

IMG_5976
Beth Whitaker as Joan

Style: Alternate (but not alternate enough!) History
Where: Praise House, Croydon
When: Until 25th May

Rating: 5/5

If you were to sit down and devise a piece of immersive theatre design to exactly coincide with my life and obsessions, you couldn’t do much better than Crisis, What Crisis.

A political drama set around the vote of no confidence in the Callaghan government you are a group of Labour advisors working at a secret location to solve the labour (and Labour) disputes that are bedevilling the government and putting your wafer-thin majority (just the vote of the speaker in it) in danger of collapse.

Ably led by David (writer Tom Black) and Joan (Beth Whitaker) you negotiate with union leaders, communicate with a worried nation through the medium of phone-ins and a far too curious journalist.

IMG_6055.JPG
Tom Black as David

That this piqued and held my interest might have been inevitable. That the rest of the crowd were equally invested and excited was a tribute to the wonderful work of Parabolic director Owen Kingston and writer Black.

The office space was impressively authentic, partly because the building could clearly use a facelift from its 70s heyday, but also because the team have clearly trained the eye for detail they used to such great effect on For King and Country on this late 70s period piece. Having a Welsh Barman called Reg was the piece de resistance- I swear I used to get my Friday night Coca Cola from a similar character every time I was dragged to Hackney Labour Club.

That this spoke so much to me should not put off any less-political immersive lovers. The joy is the journey and the tension here is just as well managed as it was in For King and Country. I promise you don’t need to be a political geek to get this – just willing as always to throw yourself into the action. There’s plenty to land on.

Review: The Swell Mob

The_Swell_Mob_Rod_Penn (1)
Photo credit: Rod Penn

Style: The Dark Side of Vaudville
Where: Colab Factory
When: Until end July.

Rating: 3.5/5

Flabberghast Theatre have created a stunning world for The Swell Mob. The world of an 1840 den of iniquity, it is dark and colourful, bejewelled and cheap, murky and fascinating.

From the entry to the upstairs space to the many times I discovered new hidden spaces I hadn’t quite noticed before, exploring The Swell Mob was a marvellous part of the action. But it was not the only part. There was gambling, bare-knuckle fighting and secret missions aplenty to be carried out. There were fascinating characters and even an evil puppet.

The_Swell_Mob_Rod_Penn (13)
Photo Credit: Rod Penn

What there isn’t is enough time to really appreciate it. Immersive theatre has a rhythm and when you build a world as sumptuous as this, that rhythm is slow. It is about exploring, about drinking the whole thing in. About soaking it in as much with your senses as with your mind.

Here we didn’t really get the chance to do that. There was genuine surprise from everyone when it ended. Many had not completed the missions they were working on (us included) and this was compounded when we were moved out of the bar space quite quickly to allow the next group in. All of which is quite an immersive no-no in my experience.

The Swell Mob started life on the Edinburgh fringe and as such that probably explains the length. fringe shows aren’t very long and so this would not have seemed unusual there. But here – and especially at Colab that currently hosts The Great Gatsby and has previously hosted For King and Country this was unusual, unexpected and a little unwelcome.

There’s so much in this production I want to go back and explore. But for me, I would rather pay more for a longer show. If they could get the economics of doing one – much longer – show a night right, then they could and I am confident would, have a 5 star hit on their hands. As someone keen for more, I really hope they do.