“The Locksmith’s Dream is a series of genre-defying, immersive overnight experiences filled with narrative delights and magical puzzles. Step into a 17th Century manor house seemingly trapped in the 1920s. Unravel the narrative mysteries, solve puzzles and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the house and its grounds. Join fellow guests in sifting through the history of the house and previous inhabitants, supported by the curious staff who seem deeply connected to the property. Dine by candlelight in opulent oak-clad halls and as night falls, don your unique mask to wander in the strangeness of ‘The House of the Moon’.” – from The Locksmith’s Dream website.
Date played: April 2023
Time taken: 12 hours (including overnight stay)
Number of players: 2 in my party (22 guests overall)
Photos in this review (c) The Locksmith’s Dream or Karen Myers
Everything about The Locksmith’s Dream is otherworldly. A curated luxury immersive overnight experience, it has its home in Treowen, a gloriously creaking pile of a 17th Century manor house in the marchlands between England and Wales. And just as the house is trapped between two countries, the story it tells is trapped between, or maybe entirely outside, time(s). As an arriving guest you are very much of the modern world, but step inside ancient Treowen and you’ll find your genial, generous hosts appear forever frozen in a hazy 1920s vibe. But in The Locksmith’s Dream nothing is ever quite as it might first appear. Within Treowen’s walls are a myriad mysteries to unravel. Where you start, what questions you ask, what puzzles you attempt to solve is entirely up to you.
What is The Locksmith’s Dream?
Like the ‘between times’ nature of the house and the narrative it contains, the event itself is liminal and elusive. It slips between genres, playfully evading definition and refusing to be trapped by conventional labels. There are elements that are escape room or scavenger hunt-like, with keys to be sought and riddles to be solved, but it is neither entirely an escape room or a scavenger hunt. There are elements that borrow from the Punchdrunk brand of immersive theatre, where you can follow and interact with a character to piece together their personal narrative and their place in the mystery, but it is also not that alone. And although I’ve never LARPed, there are some influences from that world too, where you can inhabit an identity of your own to engage with the cast. And yet it’s not fully a LARP either.
So what is it? It’s impossible to define, but playfully and deliberately so. Choosing to exist between genres, there is an angle here for almost anyone who enjoys puzzles, immersion, direct performer interaction, mysteries, narrative complexity and exploration.
No, But Seriously, What Is It?
Ok, look, the world-building for this event is outstanding. The depth of detail involved in creating the mythos that exists within the mysterious walls of Treowen is immense, and crafted with passion, affection and intelligence. It is, quite simply, mind-blowing and overwhelming. So to try and explain what ‘it’ is within the confines of this review would do it a severe disservice and be at risk of being spoiler-heavy but a bare bones precis might go something like this:
Treowen exists on a threshold between worlds, and sometimes secret gods, known as the Hours and who appear in the form of birds, converge on the house to trade secrets in a meeting known as ‘the Roost’. When they depart, they leave behind “divine gossip and treasures” or ‘birdsong’. Your arrival at Treowen in the immediate aftermath of ‘the Roost’ has been arranged by a sponsor from an occult organisation who finds value in this birdsong. It is your job, once inside the house, to search it out, in any of its myriad forms. And when you find it you have a choice to make – to assign it to your sponsor who may use it for good or ill, or maybe you can trade it for information, a secret or an insight.
Physical ‘birdsong’ aren’t the only secrets hidden around the house. Treowen is staffed by a curious band of characters – from attentive butler, Hawthorn, to the wily but circumspect Inspector of the Suppression Bureau, from the dusting-obsessed servant, to the excitable but oh-so-sad Curator. They all have their own stories, woven into the very fabric of the house, and while they hold their own mysteries close they can often be persuaded to part with a detail or two if you take the time to chat, gently easing away at least part of their masks. Even those who have long left the house leave secret traces that endure – your occult sponsor might want physical birdsong but they might also like you to uncover what happened to previous residents, some of whom have met mysterious ends.
And just when you think you’ve found your bearings in this complex puzzle box of a house, night falls and, after a delicious 7 course feast of a candlelit dinner, you are invited to don the mask provided by your sponsor and explore the house anew. Because in ‘the House of the Moon’ so many things are oh so very different.
Throughout Treowen and throughout the 24 hours of your stay, enigmas and conundrums surround you on so many levels. And this is where The Locksmith’s Dream is unique to any other immersive experience I have taken part in. The path you choose to take through the event is entirely up to you. You can spend your time searching for the physical puzzles that litter the house, where every nook and cranny, every uneven floorboard and knot in the woodwork could hide a key or a riddle or a puzzle box waiting to be unravelled. There are a whole host of props and paperwork to engage with and peruse, from your own personal, leather-bound journal (which warrants careful attention!), to letters and guest books and dolls houses and chessboards and paintings, all of which may reveal a delicious sliver of information. Or you can mingle with the staff and other guests, ask some canny questions, share a joke or a moment of kindness and learn a secret or two about the house and its residents. Every conversation can unwrap another layer of the narrative and even mealtime encounters might open a new door or two. And if any of the above sounds just too darn exhausting, then you could, if you wished, retire to the inhouse bar for the entire time and just drink the cocktails while admiring the countryside views. In short, there is no right or wrong way ‘to do’ The Locksmith’s Dream. The options are multiple and the opportunities are endless.
It is easy to be bewildered by the complexity of the world created inside Treowen. There is a lot to get your head around as so much detail has been poured into every angle of the narrative and the puzzling. To get the most out of it, if you want to be fully immersed and engaged, then taking time to read and digest all the documents and paperwork you are given is key. I often fail at this in escape rooms when I’m so keen to get on to the puzzles that I ignore the narrative and skim read documents. But everything is so carefully woven together into one cohesive whole in The Locksmith’s Dream that soaking up the detail will pay huge dividends as you explore.
And when documents and written detail aren’t giving you the answers you need, it is the superb cast who step into the breach. The actors who flesh out the weird and wonderful staff of Treowen are supreme. Masters of nonchalant improvisation, the team of performers remain in character from the moment you arrive to the moment you depart. They seem entirely inbuilt into the fabric of the house and remain unphased by being asked the most obtuse and obscure of questions while they are also trying to pour you a cup of tea or make you a cocktail. Because these guys really do do everything – carry your bags to your rooms, serve tea and coffee, pour your wine and remember complex, arcane details about ancient rituals and the indepth back stories of the chamber maid.
While Treowen is a stunning, magical location and the narrative world-building complex and rich, it is the actors who make it all so very, seductively, real. Particular kudos to Emily Carding as the Curator, who was by turns all giddy excitability then heartbreaking loss. Her mournful breakfast monologue over the fate of a teaspoon was devastating. While my friend and I failed on so many levels to complete most of the challenges posed by the Locksmith’s Dream our one success was on a task for the Curator and her reaction to our resolution provided one of the most blindingly bonkers but wonderful and warm encounters of the whole weekend. The cast gathered together for this event is definitely one hell of a Locksmith’s Dream team.
But What Do I Get?
To book a place in the Locksmith’s Dream you chose one of Treowen’s 11 unique bedrooms, distributed across the top 3 floors of the house, from the smartest on the first floor to the attic spaces on the top floor. That bedroom comes with an identity – one assigned to you by your occult organisation sponsor – along with a letter from your sponsor and a series of tasks to complete (if you so wish to of course, you could ignore them completely). You’ll get a small leather bound journal full of information and space for note taking (essential!), masks to wear for the ‘House of the Moon’ event and a pin badge (who doesn’t love a pin badge) identifying your sponsor. You also get a delicious lunch on arrival, a small but perfectly formed afternoon tea, a seven course fine dining feast in the evening (including wine), a hearty breakfast the following morning and, most extraordinary of all, 24 hours of magical immersive fun.
The Locksmith’s Dream is a rarefied event – there is a large price tag, but that price envelops so many layers, experiences, details and engagements that just aren’t happening anywhere else in the UK at the moment. Having thrown myself at most immersive events that have taken place in the last ten years, I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced anything like this. It is impossible to define and impossible to compare to other immersive events, escape rooms, puzzle hunts or similar to match price points. It’s just not like anything else.
The only niggle I’d have about this whole weekend, is that while the house is historic and fascinating and gorgeous, it is also so old and protected the amenities aren’t luxury in the ‘luxury hotel’ meaning of the word. Our room in the attic (‘Seraphim’) was lovely with exposed beams and sloping floors but our twin beds were very narrow and our bathroom shared with another bedroom was a tiny cubicle with only just space for a shower and a toilet. It is not something that would put me off returning and it didn’t stop us having huge amounts of fun (especially as we spent very little time in our room) but it is something to be aware of if the price point is above your normal budget so you can manage expectations.
A Dream to return to?
The Locksmith’s Dream clearly has a potent pull. Several other guests who shared our weekend were returning for their second visits and still finding new layers to uncover and puzzles to explore. The venue is seductive enough to call you back and, especially if you’re a completist, the sense of so much left undiscovered is a powerful draw to consider a return visit. There are just so many different angles and avenues to take that no-one, not even the speediest of searchers or riddle-solvers, could do everything within one weekend.
The Locksmith’s Dream is unique. It is special. It is bewildering and magical and frustrating and exhilarating and sad and hilarious. It is laden with puzzles. It is a joy to explore and search. It is peopled with endearing, multi-layered characters performed by masterclass performers. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea (no matter how well Hawthorn the butler makes it) but for those who are willing to step outside the tedium of modern life and engage with the mystical and the magical, to suspend disbelief and be fully immersed, it will be an unforgettable, bewildering, intoxicating dream come true.
Our visit included a gifted discount on the full price but that hasn’t influenced the above review.