This week’s immersive theatre adventure (done by Immer-City) took me to an abandoned house basement in Borough, and combined the supernatural with a historical murder mystery. It was billed as
“An immersive thriller set in an old room that has been shut up for thirty years. Newly weds, Joseph and Fiona Warding, have called three sisters to host a séance, to find out the truth behind his grandfather’s brutal murder. The show explores the boundaries between reality, fiction and the paranormal. Using psychological sound, theatrical effects and a combination of interactive and staged performance, Wyrd is a show about vengeance and obsession.”
There is a lot of background work that goes into this production. Websites and YouTube videos back up the characters’ existence, and you are encouraged to ‘friend’ the lead characters on Facebook prior to attending the event.
The evening starts out at a pub with the characters milling around. Just in case you haven’t done your reading on the back story, the characters are ready to fill you in on the details. You are then led to an abandoned building and given a history lecture, before being led down the darkest staircase of your life to a makeshift wine cellar.
(Note- I left the crutches at home for this one and felt uncomfortable on the dark stairs. I said something to one of the actors and they made sure to keep their flashlights trained on the steps, which I appreciated.)
The wine cellar is cleverly both rustic and minimalist. Rough wooden pallets are set up against the walls with bottles of wine inserted in between the slats. The seating is a circle made of (rather uncomfortable) burlap and rough canvas draped over sturdy boxes. There is an altar in the corner, and candles, and a doorway leads to a darker room full of mattresses. The air is incense-heavy, and there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors trickery with candles and flames.
The plan for seating in the room is actually rather fun- groups are divvied up by birthday and spread out (although two of our party did end up next to each other.) Upon entering the room (one at a time), the creepiest of the witches directs you to your seat through vigorous pointing and an eerie tutting language. She also assigns tasks to people. I was told through a mix of tutting and gesturing that I had to put a lit match in my mouth.
What the actual fuck.
I did it though, as I thought that everyone had to eat fire, but I was the third person to enter the room and I assure you that not one of the remaining 15 or so had to eat a lit match.
I also got summoned to stand up for a creepy back massage.
The show gets off to an odd start. Skepticism about what sort of thing we’ve all gotten ourselves into is noticeable, but it works when considering it is probably the same skepticism the spectators would bring to an actual séance. The constant breathing ritual does feel a little weird and tedious, and there is a sense of awkwardness about participating in some of the necessary rituals.
What follows though, is a series of frightening lights-out moments, a journey through the history of the building’s ghosts, and different characters being possessed by ghosts until the story of the unexplained death is explained in particularly gruesome fashion.
There is a rather good twist at the end, and the spectacle is wrapped up nicely with a plausible explanation of events told by the witches.
So what was good about it? Well, the setting and lighting are very atmospheric, and the background info (websites, Facebook profiles and the you tube videos) help you to have a very full understanding of the relationships between the characters.
What could have been better was some of the acting. Without giving too much away, one of the characters (who may not be particularly convincing initially) is excellent in the final scene, but other characters felt slightly underdeveloped and unconvincing. Most spoke very fluidly and naturally but one of the characters forgot her lines a few times, which served as a reminder that you were watching a play, and took away from the fully immersive experience.
There could have been a bit more audience participation, and it was suggested by the group I went with that more could have been done with special effects to enhance the experience (one person in particular seemed let down that the candles didn’t ‘do more’ – I guess move on their own or something- but I’m not sure if that’s actually a valid criticism.) I found it odd that the three sisters all had different regional accents, and I also maintain that the character who was inexplicably American dropped his accent, but no one else agreed with me about that. Silly old redcoats.
I did have a slightly enhanced experience of the play as I was sat next to the creepiest of the sisters, who throughout the performance whispered weird shit in my ear, played with my hair, gave me rocks (there’s a lot of rocks involved, actually) and possibly punched me in the kidneys (which happened when the lights went out, but the jury’s still out as to who it was- hopefully it was not an actual ghost.)
Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening. The show was a good length, and at £15, good value. If you like immersive theatre, dark creepy basements, having the shite scared out of you (I fully admit I screamed twice), go- there are still tickets left for Sunday night’s show.
But I will be annoyed if no one else has to eat a match.
3 1/2 stars for this one, verging on 4.
Tickets and info here
Wait outside the pub by the benches. The pub was HEAVING when we were there, but it’s clear outside who’s involved and the supporting organisers were helpful in getting the group together.
Don’t touch ANYTHING. One of our group pretty much destroyed the hundred-year-old wooden room divider in the upstairs of the house, and then got told off for giggling. This is not the place for giggling.