Review: Gingerline’s Chambers of Flavour

Chambers Food Credit Emma Nathan 1
Credit: Emma Nathan

Style: Immersive dining experience
Where: Undisclosed location near Hoxton
When: Booking until end September

Rating: 5/5 stars

Not suitable for those with mobility issues, though email to see what they can do. 

Gingerline keep their secrets close to the chest, which makes reviewing their immersive dining experiences difficult. I don’t want to accidentally give away details that are best left unshared until after you have done it.

However, I persevere! Chambers of Flavour is the second Gingerline experience I have done and is significantly different from The Grand Expedition. Where that was static, in this experience you move from place to place and need to be pretty mobile to do so.

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Credit: Rob Grieg

The food is exciting and interesting. Extremely varied, it is also well spaced out so despite eating a significant number of courses, you don’t feel overfull at any time. The drinks are also excellent – with good wine and fun cocktails designed to accompany the food well.

This is a more challenging experience than Grand Expedition and for me a better one for it. Each chamber offered a challenge, or a game or an experience that complimented the theme of the food while also keeping us in childlike giggles or wonder throughout.

Chambers of Flavour is not cheap, but it definitely delivers value. the food is delicious, but it is the fun with which the whole experience is delivered that really packs a punch.

 

 

Review: 80 days: A real-world adventure

80 Days, courtesy of Sofia Romualdo (1) Kelly Long
Kelly Long as Nightingale the Navigator. Credit: Sofia Romualdo

Style: Interactive Treasure Hunt
Where: Underbelly Festival
When: Booking until 29th September

Rating: 5/5 stars

Not suitable for those with mobility issues.

If you’ve lived in a city all your life, it can be quite hard to find ways to look at it with fresh eyes; new ways to explore it and see it anew. 80 Days was held around the corner from my last two offices in an area I know very well. The park you start it was where I had sat and had coffee with my old boss just last week. So the fact that I found so much joy in the London of this experience, and learned so much about an area I thought I knew was a sign of the exceptional amount of thought and quality that has been put into this experience.

Upon arrival, you are sent off with a map and log into a website. the map covers most of the Strand and Covent Garden. The website has clues to find as well as map references. It also has shops to buy things along the way to help with your journey around the world. Each solved clue gives you more money – as do (if successful) wagers with the cast.

80 Days, courtesy of Sofia Romualdo (8) Nicholas Anscombe
Nicholas Anscombe as Baron Pendelton. Credit Sofia Romualdo

The cast and the game are charming, imaginative and inventive throughout. The clues are reasonably challenging and the trick is to plan your route well to ensure you maximise your opportunities to earn and buy.  They clearly put an awful lot of thought, time and effort into creating an experience that worked incredibly well. We ran all over and enjoyed ourselves enormously even when we failed to find clues.

I genuinely can’t think of a better way to have spent a sunny Sunday afternoon. Boris Johnson may be elected PM tomorrow, We may No-Deal Brexit by the autumn. But in the meantime lovelies, go run around London like a loon trying to solve clues and win dice games. All the while singing the theme tune from Willy Fog.

My only quibble with this show is both that I really want to do it again, but am not sure that it would work twice as I now know both a number of the clues (though if you go and find out what hat the blue lady is wearing please, please tell me as it was my unsolved clue and is driving me mad!) and what equipment is best. But this is a minor thing based solely on how much I enjoyed it the first time around. And I will definitely hope to see a lot more from this production company.

I heartily recommend this adventure for anyone who fancies doing something a bit quirky, a bit different and a lot charming.

Review: The Unholy Marriage of Slice and Sweetly

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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.

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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.

Review: Spy City

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.