Review: Red Palace

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Teddy Lamb as Wolf. Photo by Nic Kane.

Style: Burlesque Fairy Tale
Where: The Vaults

Rating: 4/5 stars

Brought to the Vaults by the same people who brought us Divine Proportions I was a little nervous about Red Palace. However, despite having a few issues hearing the actors over the dining portion of the event, the company had clearly taken some of the issues on board. This even had a little interaction over the dinner – but as this was optional, there was plenty of action during the main show which took place after dinner. It was well lit, well amplified and more importantly well-staged, directed and written.

The story was quite simple and classic. Macbeth as delivered through classic Fairy Tale characters. It had elements throughout of intrigue, audience participation, cabaret and puzzle solving – all my favourite parts of immersive theatre. The action zips along nicely and the different scenes are well played. The space is complicated and the queuing between scenes was sometimes a little awkward. It also meant that sometimes the noise from one scene bled into the action of another which could be distracting.

My other question is on the burlesque element, which I am not convinced brought a lot to the show. I am never quite sure how I feel about burlesque. Is it simply a way of dressing up stripping as something more modern or is it empowering and sexy? And if it is, why aren’t men doing it? The dancers here were definitely powerful and danced brilliantly, so if burlesque is your thing then I am sure this added element would definitely enhance your experience.

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Nic Kane Photography

What worked especially well was the layered experience of each room adding elements to the story. As the audience all saw these elements in different orders, it was well written that these never seemed confused or out of order. Someone who – for example – went into the forest at their first shot may have a very different understanding throughout than those of us who started at the gingerbread bar, but the different experiences enhanced rather than hindered the overall show.

This is a really fun experience. The food is an optional extra but it is genuinely delicious and definitely worth it. The performances were all superb with enough wit in their improvisation to show that the actors had done in-depth character thinking and understood what would normally be considered archetypes. For me the standout was Emily Essery as Red, but overall the quality was high and the thought that had gone into the show was obvious.

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Review: Souvenir

Emma cast and guests 2.JPGStyle: Hyper-real, deeply intimate drama
Where: Various

Rating: 5/5 stars

Surprise parties are the worst aren’t they? They’re always either not a surprise or not particularly welcome. I’m such an event planner, no one will ever be able to throw me a surprise party as I plan literally every big event months in advance. So luckily this will never happen to me.

However, at Souvenir, I found myself attending a surprise 30th birthday party. Held by Richard (Damian Gildea) for his partner Anna (Sonya Cullingford) ably assisted by her best friend Margot (Bonnie Adair). It is fair to say, that by the end of the drama, Anna is not the only one in for a surprise.

Brought to you by the same people who made the superb Recollection this is a drama that plays again with our understanding of memories, how they make us who we are and how as we continue to curate them online, we may change how they behave offline.

This is a powerful and intense drama made even more so for the daring gambit of the fact that each performance is created in a punter’s home (reveal: on this occasion it was mine). You go to a real house, stand by their real stove and that makes the moving story of the party that becomes so much more, so much more real to you.

It’s an astonishing experience. One made more intimate by the detritus of a real person’s flat. Of watching the action take place while standing next to the stove. by watching things fall apart, knowing that that space has probably seen its own share of domestics, tears, recriminations.

This is a great experience and a moving piece of work that is daringly staged. I highly recommend going to a performance near you. And if there isn’t one – host one!

Preview: Bridge Command

fe1752e4-3eab-409e-9353-81c60b528862One of the nicest things about writing this blog is how much I have got to know some of the immersive theatre community. In particular, I have become an ardent admirer and fan of the work that comes out of Colab Factory.

In part, this is because the central cast and crew are just so bloody nice. In part, it’s because their shows are so well put together and thoughtful. But mostly, it’s because they combine these two factors into the centrally important, overriding element that makes immersive theatre work: they put the audience’s experience at the heart of what they do.

Writing a review without spoilers is tough enough. Writing a preview even harder. But I will do my best.

Last week I was privileged to spend an afternoon with the team as they blocked out, rehearsed and tested their latest adventure Bridge Command. Part computer game, part immersive spaceship simulation, this short family-oriented show gives the small (6 person) audience/crew the change to learn a set of computer-based roles and systems and make game-changing decisions.

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The rehearsal process was fascinating as the actors both had to facilitate the action enough to ensure they were learning new things each time they ran through the scene but also remember that they were testing how usable the technology was for an audience facing it for the first time.

One thing that hadn’t occurred to me was that they have to rehearse for different types of audience. In this case from kids hyped up on sugar to drunken stag dos. Watching them do so was both revealing and fascinating and has made me vow to make sure my gin money is spent mostly after the performances from now on!

In the show, all the tropes of space travel fun are engaged. The technology is challenging at first – part of the testing is ironing that out – but when you get to grips with it, there is much fun to be had. Each member of the crew faces different challenges as per their assigned role and overall, each will contribute to the joint success or failure of the venture.

I saw Bridge Command while still in rehearsal so am aware only of its potential (and let’s face it, as a Colab project it has a lot of potential) but can absolutely see not only how enjoyable it will be as a family experience, but how much I hope I will get to take along my computer-loving nephew one day.

Review: Tracing Erased Memories

IMG_20190809_201240Style: Technology-enabled walking tour
Where: Central London

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Tracing Erased Memories is a concept that attempts to put you in the shoes of young, enthusiastic, impassioned protestors and their personal testimonies of mistreatment at the hands of the police. The experience is a guided journey, where a guide steers you from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square while you listen on headphones to speakers from the London Student riots of 2010 and the Cairo Riots of 2011.

As you walk, you see a similar journey filmed between Talaat Harb Square and Tahrir Square in Cairo joining the two pieces on a similar journey. Watching the street you aren’t on while walking a place as familiar as Whitehall was discombobulating but that also allowed you to get into the more nervous mindset of the protestor – particularly one unused to protest.

The stories of the protest were interesting. Every now and again you would stop and hear someone tell of the way they were treated – either by strangers or the police – both in Cairo and London. The multi-media presentation blended news footage, animation and new video with the sound of the stories and the street.

This is a very interesting way to spend an hour and to think about protest, protestors and the reaction to them. The show has a point of view, and it is presented well. Even when I didn’t agree with the point of view of the protestors (there was some conspiratorial thinking that I am pretty confident isn’t true) I understood what was driving them to feel that way. the presentation of the violence of the state was impressively intimidating and while I have gone on many, many protests in my time, I have never been kettled and it was moving to hear the pain of those who had. For that to be their early experience of asking for their voices to be heard in a democracy.

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The show is unabashedly presented from a left-wing perspective. This, of course, suits me down to the ground. But I do think there might be mileage to hear from the voices of those who protest from the opposite perspective. Not becuase I would ever wish to be –  or have anyone be –  persuaded by their arguments, but because I think the contrasts and similarities of experience would be fascinating. Imagine doing a similar project, but with those who marched against education cuts on the one hand and in support of Tommy Robinson on the other. What could each side teach each other about their shared experiences?

But that’s a minor thought and doesn’t distract from the interest or power of the original. It’s a journey that has easy distractions, as you weave around tourists guided by your guide and watching your Cairo counterpart’s journey. This is an ongoing project that has been developed first in Amsterdam and now in the UK and Cairo. Part art installation, part immersive walking tour it is interesting and engaging. You can see much potential in the idea and the concept and I look forward to seeing where they take it next.

 

 

 

 

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.