Mamma Mia! The Party | Review

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Mamma Mia! The Party: Review | Feel transported to the island of Skopelos to dance, dine and have the time of your life! As the sun sets, you’ll take your seats at Nikos’ family-run taverna where you’ll enjoy a delicious four-course Greek meal before dancing the night away at a glittering ABBA disco. Plan your getaway with family and friends to Mamma Mia! The Party for the ultimate Greek holiday experience to remember.

 

Mamma Mia! Here we go again…

A few need-to-know facts about me which may inform this review:

  • I am in the top .5% of ABBA listeners according to my Spotify wrapped
  • The first dance at my wedding will be “I Do, I Do, I Do”
  • I think Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again is one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of the last decade

 

Needless to say, I am the prime target audience for Mamma Mia: The Party. And I am pleased to report that my time in Skopelos more than lived up to my expectations.

My biggest shout out of the evening is the incredible staff who are working throughout the immersive experience. Every person I encountered was friendly, genuine, and quick on the trigger when asking if you’d like them to take a picture of you at the many photo opportunities. This is the perfect place for a night out that you can later post on Instagram. It comes as no surprise that this is a perfect and popular destination for hen-do’s.

We had fantastic seats right on the stage, so we enjoyed our fair share of attention from the performers. But from my perspective, it seemed like every seat in the house had an incredible view and were interacted with at some point. Even your waiter will be a talented performer who joins in on the song and dance.

 

 

We love dinner theatre

The ticket comes with a three course meal. As a serial theme party-thrower, a big pet peeve of mine is when a theatrical-dining experience does not have food that fits the theme. Luckily at Mamma Mia: The Party the delicious menu is straight out of Greece. From the mezze platter starter to the lamb (so good!), the food was delicious. Out of the entire menu, the only thing I didn’t absolutely love was the Lemon Cake which was served with yoghurt, but I’m not a yogurt fan, so your mileage may vary! I’d actually highly recommend getting the Vegan dessert option, donuts, which my friend ordered. They were delicious!

 

Mamma Mia: The Show

Let’s be honest, it’s Mamma Mia, we’re here for the ABBA, not the plot. There is a forbidden lovers storyline which served the many opportunities for song and dance well (we can’t always be finding our long lost father out of three potential candidates). There are various characters and a few side plots and diversions, my favourite of which was an invocation to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, that happens in a stunning sequence in the dark with an aerial artist. The aerial work in the show, done by Allie Ho Chee, is truly stunning. Her character Bella also has a really fun dance number earlier in the show. Bella and her partner Nina, played by Jessica Spalis, were highlights of the cast for me. They both brought great energy and immense physical talent to Skopelos!

The best part of the theatrical experience of Mamma Mia: The Party was the immersion. I really enjoyed setting “The Party” on Skopelos, the island where Mamma Mia! was filmed. There’s a nice, uncomplicated meta-ness to the parameters of the world. You’ll find a series of informational posters by the complimentary coat check (as they said, it’s Greece so you’re going to be warm!) that include ferry times, maps and concert posters taking place on the island which was a lovely touch of immersion. 

 

Interactivity & World Building in Mamma Mia! The Party

While there’s no escape or puzzle elements to the show (unless you want to escape the music of ABBA and then we can’t be friends), the interactivity is some of the best I’ve experienced. Part of that is the ingeniously simple structure of the night: it is genuinely like you really are just attending a really great Mamma Mia themed party. Despite there being only a few set-up interactive moments, the way the show functions is that every interaction, be it with your waiter, the front of house, or the performers passing by, feels like an experience.

Overall, Mamma Mia: The Party was one of my favourite immersive experiences ever. The ticket prices are steep, but it’s a great value for an amazing and well thought out night out. And it’s certainly the closest I’m going to get to Greece this year!

 

Mamma Mia! The Party can be booked by heading to their website here.

‘The Boys’ Get the V | Review

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‘The Boys’ Are Back in Town

The Boys Get the V Review | To launch season 3 of the explosive comic book adaptation ‘The Boys’, streaming platform Amazon Prime and UK based immersive theatre big guns Swamp Motel team up for “a f**king diabolical immersive experience”. Warning – this one’s “not for pussies”. An immersive experience that might just literally blow your head off. It’s your chance to help Butcher and The Boys infiltrate Vought’s London HQ to smuggle out some contraband Temp V. Unless you get caught, in which case – you’re f*cked.

 

Date Played: 31st May 2022
Time Taken: 25 minutes
Number of Players: 2

 

 

Ultra-gory, scabrously sexy and liberally littered with expletives, the Amazon Prime adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s ‘The Boys’ comic books has pushed buttons and boundaries since it started streaming in 2019.  Now back for a third series (with the first episode due to drop on Fri 3 June, then eps following weekly), this is a darkly cynical, gloriously grotesque and twisted take on the superhero genre and for just a few days London is playing host to an immersive version of its particular brand of death and debauchery. 

 

But what’s it all about?

At the heart of ‘The Boys’ is a gang of superpowered All American heroes, known as ‘the supes’ who regularly save the day, to the delight of an adoring public who lap up the media frenzy that surrounds the shiny, super-suited idols. But underneath the Supes sleek surface is a corrupt heart. These heroes are the manufactured products of the Vought Corporation who pump the Supes bodies full of a superhero serum known as V, and pump their already inflated egos to bursting point. The Supes may look like the good guys but in reality they’re a bunch of dark-hearted whack jobs who don’t care how many bodies they trample over in pursuit of sex, power and a dose of V.

Only a few people know the truth and this is where the real heroes, ‘The Boys’ come in.  Led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban on his best beardy, sweary form) these guys have made it their personal mission to bring the Supes and the Vought Corporation to their knees.

 

And Why Do I Care?

Because to launch season 3 Amazon Prime has teamed up with immersive theatre geniuses, Swamp Motel, to create an experience which promises to be explosive. And very possibly bloody. And almost definitely sweary.

As a huge fan of the TV show and as an even bigger fan of Swamp Motel (whose trio of online ‘Isklander’ games were a highlight of 2 years of lockdown and whose immersive show/escape room ‘The Drop’ was a beautifully built thrill ride) I couldn’t wait to see what they’d concocted.

 

What’s the Plan, Stan?

Billy Butcher is in town and needs your help. He’s got intel that our very own Foreign Secretary has teamed up with the Vought Corporation to smuggle in doses of ‘temp V’ – a version of the Supe drug that’ll give anyone superhero powers for 24 hours. Butcher knows that getting hold of the temp V could even up the playing field as he and the boys take on those dangerous Supes. But he needs a local squad to break into Vought’s secret London base. He needs brave souls. And very probably dispensable ones too.

 

Inside Job

So after receiving a an email mission briefing from Butcher himself, me and a few brave/foolish/expendable (delete as applicable) teammates arrived at Vought’s London HQ to find there’d been an incident. A very gory incident. A random body parts and bloody puddles incident. A security guard with his intestines hanging out kind of incident. And when our ‘handler’ also met an explosively sticky end it was up to us to figure out how to infiltrate Vought’s security systems, navigate our way around some mutant Supes and get our hands on some samples of temp V. Severed hands and bloodied eyeballs might have played a part.

 

 

 

This brief immersive foray into the world of the Supes vs The Boys is just that, brief. We were in and out in 25 mins. And this definitely isn’t an escape room or puzzle hunt – apart from a couple of short-lived searches for security codes and/or information, the immersive element mostly involves walking round blood-splattered offices, picking your way over copious corpses and being shouted at and abused by Vought operatives, who, fair play to them, threw themselves into the roles with both gusto and a varied vocabulary of insults.

This is immersive action very much in the vein of the show – gory, darkly funny and rude. Very very very rude. Those of a sensitive disposition should stay well clear but fans of ‘The Boys’ will revel in the show’s standard level of sheer filth brought to technicoloured life. Even for a short-lived pop-up promo Swamp Motel’s high quality production build is as evident as ever, and the sheer scale of the enterprise is impressive with multiple sets spread throughout a roomy office block.  And the cast is committed, fast-witted and brave. Staged fight choreography is hard to pull off at close quarters but Swamp Motel’s team give it a game go at the event’s climax and the … erm … appendages, that some of the cast are asked to lug around takes supe-level chutzpah to carry off.

 

 

Despite being an official Amazon Prime season launch promo and an event that will inevitably appeal mostly to the show’s fan base, there was surprisingly, and disappointingly, little footage from the show itself featured.  A video briefing from Butcher or an abusive warning off from top Supe (and sleaze) Homelander would have been a nice touch.  A little more time to free roam the various sets and admire the details and Easter eggs that fans enjoy would also have been welcome, but with only 4 days of shows and very limited tickets it’s maybe no surprise that you find yourself unceremoniously dumped out on the street fairly quickly, insults still ringing in your ears.

 

The Verdict

Direct comparisons with Swamp Motel’s superb ‘Isklander’ and ‘The Drop’ games are probably unfair as ‘Get the V’ is a very different beast both in intent and execution.  This is very much a guided journey with limited scope for audience autonomy.  But it is also still a filthily funny immersive adventure into the gory, grimy world of ‘The Boys’, where expletives, exploding heads and dick jokes are common currency.  And while we might never get to sample the infamous ‘V’, this is a satisfyingly bawdy appetiser for those of us who are frothing at the mouth at the thought of season 3. 

The Boys is running for a limited time and can be booked by heading to their website here.

The Tomb Raider Live Experience | Review

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This summer London comes alive with a whole host of brand new not-quite-escape-room immersive experiences. From the Gunpowder Plot, to The Burnt City, and now the very latest: Tomb Raider the Live Experience. This week we were invited along before the doors officially open to try our hands at being Lara Croft for ourselves.

It was time to put on our shorts, tie our hair back, and leap into the action!

 

Photo (c) Tomb Raider the Live Experience

 

What is Tomb Raider the Live Experience?

First and foremost, what actually is Tomb Raider the Live Experience? To be sure, it’s not an escape room. Well, not quite anyway.

You and a team of up to 8 intrepid explorers (note, non-exclusive bookings) join Professor Lara Croft on an adventure that’ll take you quite literally around the world. You’re part of her university course and as her top 8 students, the fate of the world is in your hands! But beware, there are nefarious forces working against you.

Starting in Professor Croft’s study, you’re sucked in a whirlwind of adventure, first travelling to an icy cabin in Finland, then into a dangerously sinking ship, before disembarking (by portal, of course) into the heart of the jungle in Costa Rica. Throughout your adventure your goal is quite simple: Recover as many ‘Relics’ as possible. These relics are small orbs that fit within the palm of your hand. The maximum you can get is around 16.

In our particular team, including us at The Escape Roomer and our new friends at Scare Tour, we managed to complete the challenge with a respectable 8 relics in the bag. Enjoyably, we also managed to complete several ‘hidden’ tasks, which was a very nice reveal by our host at the end – but no spoilers as to what those are, you’ll just have to wait and see! 8, or 16… It’s no easy feat! Different relics pose different challenges and some of those quite challenging indeed.

The main way players obtain relics is by solving escape-room style puzzles. Here at The Escape Roomer, we were big fans of these. We only wish we had more time in those sections of the game! Players can also expect to find them hidden around in odd places, as well as the chance to complete physical challenges to obtain those oh-so-shiny relics.

So is it an escape room? No, not really. You’re not escaping, you’re going on a scripted adventure. In some rooms there are puzzles to solve and goals to complete, but it’s a lot more than an escape room. Let’s get into that further.

 

Photo by Us

 

Crawling, Zipping and Leaping!

The best thing about Tomb Raider the Live Experience is the physicality of it. There are very few other experiences that require you to get quite so ‘down and dirty’ than this one- and yes, I mean that quite literally! I’m still brushing off sand from my knees and finding bits of bark in my hair a day later! Each time we rounded a corner and found a new, exciting looking physical challenge, my heart fluttered a little. What would they expect us to do next? Jump from a high height, fire another weapon, or get down on the floor?

For this reason however, there’s a big ol’ note on accessibility to mention. Whilst the best source of information is their own FAQ, our impression is that the experience as a whole isn’t suitable for folks with accessibility needs, or folks who might be pregnant. If any player does have any accessibility need and would like to to skip a section the actors are on-hand to help a player through or bypass it for them entirely. So, yes, you could skip whole sections. But since this is the centrepiece of the whole experience, you would be missing the star of the show!

Still unsure? From the main lobby there’s an enormous window overlooking the most physical part of the experience and all but a few of the ‘most physical’ challenges are visible before you even take part. So you could decide ahead of time what you’re comfortable with and what not.

For a spoiler free list of what physical challenges to expect – highlight the below:

  • A zipwire (~2m tall, 20m long)
  • A leap of faith, forwards or backwards (~2m tall)
  • An army-style obstacle course involving crawling and climbing
  • Ducking and crouching
  • Firing a bow and arrow
  • Crawling through a pitch black tunnel with stairs

Photo by Us!

 

…And Solving Puzzles?

As this is The Escape Roomer, we’re always looking out for fun puzzles to solve. Tomb Raider the Live Experience has plenty of them. In fact, too many puzzles as there was definitely not enough time to solve everything.

For the average escape room enthusiast, this may leave a slightly bad taste in your mouth. Since this is a timed event you’ll be able to spend no more than 10, maybe 15 minutes in each location and after interacting with the actor(s) in the room, there’s not much time left for solving puzzles. Each location can cater for up to 8 players at once, so whilst the spaces are large, a lot of people may be crowding around one thing.

Over the course of the entire experience, I solved one puzzle in it’s entirely. It was a great feeling. There were a further three that I was able to engage with but did not have enough time to solve. At one point I held a 4 digit lock in my hands and was just about to enter the last digit when the actor came over, took it from my hands, and hurried me along. Noooooo- I stare wistfully at the relic in the box just seconds away from me claiming it. For this reason I mention again, it may leave a slightly bad feeling for escape room enthusiasts, because we are enthusiasts because we love to solve puzzles. Being shown puzzles and having them whisked away wasn’t as fun as it could have been.

 

Photo (c) Tomb Raider the Live Experience

 

“Everything lost is meant to be found”

I am sure that fans of the Lara Croft franchise will love this experience. Personally, I’ve never played any of the Lara Croft games and so I don’t mind admitting that a lot of the story was lost on me. At any given moment, I wasn’t completely sure what was going on – and I could tell that I wasn’t alone. In our team consisting mostly of strangers there were more than a few blank looks as the actors asked us a question and we weren’t sure what or how to reply. Simple things like who we can trust and who we were up against might have done with a little more explaining – but as I say, hardcore fans familiar with the ins and the outs of the franchise likely won’t have that issue.

Part adventure game, part scripted – there’s a lot of actor interaction and each person we met along our journey played their role with gusto and enthusiasm! One or two actors perhaps a little too enthusiastically as increasingly aggressive orders were barked at us when we weren’t sure what we were supposed to do, but I’ll not fault the actors for teething issues on the first night.

 

The Verdict

Overall, we did had fun at Tomb Raider the Live Experience. It is a very physical experience with an on-site bar in a prime London location, making it a good spot for teambuilding activities or birthday parties. Tomb Raider the Live Experience comes in at £77 – £99 per person, though if you’re lucky you might just nab a “super off peak” ticket for £66.

Since we are ‘The Escape Roomer’, we have to ask whether we’d recommend it for escape room enthusiasts and to that I would say probably not. It’s a very fast-paced experience where teams are herded through impressive physical spaces, but that doesn’t leave much time for solving puzzles. There’s few things more dissatisfying in an escape room than not solving all the puzzles, but unlike a real escape room there’s no games master to explain ‘what you missed’ after. For every ‘yay’ moment of taking part in something physical, there were many more moments of confusion and dissatisfaction.

That said, if you’re looking for something ‘a little different’ and enjoy running, jumping and hopping around through the jungle, then this might be for you. In particular, we really enjoyed taking part in activities outside of our comfort zone. It’s not every Thursday night I get to climb ropes and leap off things backwards with my eyes shut. And hey, no matter what anybody says, I didn’t scream that loud. Okay, maybe a little bit loud.

For now, I think I’ll stick with Lara Croft on my video game consoles, but I’m excited to see if and how the experience will evolve in the future.

 

If you wish to try Tomb Raider the Live Experience for yourself, head to their website here.

Witness for the Prosecution | Review

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Witness for the Prosecution Review | Step inside the magnificent surroundings of London County Hall and experience the intensity and drama of Agatha Christie’s gripping story of justice, passion and betrayal in a unique courtroom setting. Leonard Vole is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. The stakes are high – will Leonard survive the shocking witness testimony, will he be able to convince the jury, and you of his innocence and escape the hangman’s noose?

Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution has been intriguing amateur sleuths since 1925 when she first penned the story in her short story ​​”Traitor’s Hands”. Originally adapted into a stage play in 1953 by Christie, the play has seen the West End, Broadway and a film adaptation. This current production of Witness for the Prosecution takes place in the stunning London County Hall, which served as the headquarters of London’s local government until 1986. The play is performed in-the-round, with the site-specific courthouse setting allowing for very effective immersion during the courthouse scenes.

The show has been described as both immersive and interactive, so, as this is The Escape Roomer, my review will be in two parts. The first will look at the show as a piece of theatre and the second will focus on the immersive and interactive elements of Witness for the Prosecution.

London County Hall. Photo by Grace O’Kefe.

I originally had tickets for Witness for the Prosecution at the end of March 2020 (we all know how that turned out), so I was delighted to have the opportunity to see the play two years later. Director Lucy Bailey immediately establishes a superb level of tension in the nightmarish opening sequence, with Mic Pool’s sound design particularly getting my heart pounding before the courtroom is transformed into the play’s secondary setting: the accused’s barrister’s office. As an American who had spent one entire summer interning at a law firm, occasionally making it into the city’s courts, I was intrigued to see if there were any differences in the British legal system. My takeaway: it seems that we basically stole everything except for the wigs. 

The County Hall is a stunning venue that immediately transports you into the drama and sets the stakes as life or death. My seat in the courtroom stalls was perhaps the comfiest theatre seat I’ve had the pleasure to sit in for two hours. As the performance is in-the-round, you are basically guaranteed to have a great view, although note that there are quite a few flights of stairs to get up to the seats in the galleries.

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Christie’s script is well-paced and timeless, touching on issues of class, gender relations and xenophobia, without ever feeling dated despite being a period piece. The introduction to the case is in the defendant’s barrister’s office, who, as portrayed by Jonathan Firth, has all the wit, vivacity and presence that you’d expect of one of Christie’s detectives. Our defendant Leonard Vole’s arc is actually a very interesting examination of male vulnerability, the role is played with a great deal of sensitivity and range by Joe McNamara throughout the piece.

Witness for the Prosecution is at its best during the courtroom scenes, which allows the site-specific setting as well as its full company of actors to shine. There are many non-speaking characters in the play as various members of the court. In particular, I found myself drawn to the court stenographer, played by Lorna Lowe, who fittingly was an attorney before training at Lamda. Without drawing focus, her reactions to the scandalous court proceedings added a level of realism that reminded me of my time spent observing court cases. 

As this is Agatha Christie, of course, this is no mere courtroom drama, it is also a mystery. Christie’s clever plotting leads us through several twists and turns, and if you’ve managed to remain unspoiled, trying to solve the case alongside the characters is a great deal of fun. Although my guest and I had different guesses of ‘whodunnit’, I must admit we were both entirely wrong. Leave it to Agatha Christie to be ten steps ahead of us even half a century later. Overall, Witness for the Prosecution is a gripping murder mystery and a beautifully-executed piece of theatre.

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Immersion and Interactivity

Sorry Brecht, but the appeal of immersive theatre appears to be here to stay. Over the past few decades, immersion and interactivity have become increasingly prevalent buzzwords in the entertainment industry. The terms are often conflated, but as readers of The Escape Roomer, I hope you’ll indulge me with a brief, very nerdy examination of the two terms. I turn to my favourite scholarly article on the subject (yes, I do have a favourite): Catherine Bouko’s “Interactivity and Immersion in a media-based performance” from 2014. If you are a nerd like me, I highly recommend reading the whole article, but here is my cliff notes version of my understanding of her definitions:

There are three levels of immersion: the first involves the breaking down of the “fourth wall” between performers and actors, the second has the audience placed within an environment and narrative, and the third (which is nearly impossible to achieve without VR or similar technology) sees the audience experiencing confusion between reality and fiction.

A clear definition of interactivity and its varying degrees is more elusive: the baseline for interactivity involves some form of reaction to the participant from the performance, more advanced interactivity allows the audience to make choices that will affect the narrative in a predetermined way, while the final stage of interactivity allows the audience to affect the narrative in unforeseen ways beyond the control of the performance. It’s actually very rare for experiences that we might describe as interactive to reach the later stages of interactivity, as most interactive experiences have a predetermined outcome (or outcomes).

In a way, all live theatre is in some sense both interactive and immersive, as actors on stage feed off the energy and reactions of the audience, allowing the audience to interact with the performance and audience members often feel immersed in a production through the magic of live theatre. That being said, this is The Escape Roomer, so let’s break down how much immersion and interactivity you can expect in Witness for the Prosecution. 

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Is Witness for the Prosecution Immersive or Interactive?

Witness for the Prosecution certainly has immersive elements, chief among them being its site-specific setting. According to the very trusty source of an uncited claim on Wikipedia, “it was always Christie’s wish to see the play in a site-specific location”, and if that is indeed true, you can easily see why: it is a stunningly effective way to bring you into the world of the play. This immersion is slightly undercut during the times when setting switches, despite the set changes being beautifully realised through direction, lighting and sound. While Christie’s script is tightly woven as is, it would be interesting to see a version of the play that was adapted to take place entirely in the courtroom.

The interactive elements of the play are limited to the VIP Jury tickets who decide the fate of the accused. Notably, the tickets come with a reminder that “as a member of the Jury you must shut out from your minds everything except what will take place during the trial”, which seems quite a difficult task as the entire performance plays out in front of you. I was not a member of the jury, so I cannot truly attest to the level of interactivity of the experience. That being said, from my outside perspective, there seemed to be some limit to the amount of influence they had on how the play unfolds. That being said, it seems like an excellent VIP theatrical experience, where you become part of the show and have an increased level of immersion: throughout the play, witnesses, solicitors and the judge speak directly to the jury, the jury has a brief moment to deliberate and the jury foreman gets to announce the verdict. 

Taking this all into account, if asked specifically about the level of immersion and interactivity, I would describe Witness for the Prosecution as a really fantastically executed site-specific piece of theatre that creates a heightened level of theatrical immersion. If you are interested in more immersion, as well as elements of interactivity, I’d recommend going for the VIP Jury tickets. And of course, as with any Agatha Christie mystery, the audience gets to put on their detective hats and decide for themselves: whodunit?

Witness for the Prosecution can be booked at London County Hall here.

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive | Review

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It’s not theatre, or cinema. It’s not an escape room, theme park ride or VR game. Yes, there are pyrotechnics, projections, holograms and special effects. But this is quite different to an arena show (there are only 8-12 tickets per performance). As London’s multi-award winning, top-rated “immersive night out,” this event combines them all.

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive Experience

In an unassuming period building on Leadenhall Street, just a short walk from Bank Station and dwarfed by nearby skyscrapers, a whole new world can be discovered. This building houses Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Immersive Experience, but until you stick your head through the door and notice the enormous Martian towering over the bar, you’d never have believed it!

This live immersive experience has been in London since 2019 but thanks to the pandemic (an event not too dissimilar from the death and destruction the story itself tells), it’s been shut for most of 2020 and 2021. The moment tickets came back on sale, we re-downloaded the album and started getting ready for our very own Martian adventure.

Photo (c) Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive

What to Expect at War of the Worlds Immersive

There’s no denying that Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive is a huge experience, and bookers should be prepared to have their socks blown off over the course of the 2 hour event.

For starters, there are 24 unique scenes. Typically when reviewing escape room experiences, we mention how many unique spaces, or ‘rooms’ there are in an experience. I didn’t think I could be any more impressed after 221B’s five spaces, but The War of the World’s Immersive Experience has 24 unique spaces in it.

Players are guided through each of these 24 scenes, scattered through time and space, to tell the story of the Martian invasion of Earth. You’ll find yourself running through trenches with huge robots up above, slipping down slides, scampering across rickety bridges, entering VR areas such as on a boat or up in a hot air balloon. This thing is huge.

The Earth Under The Martians by Fluid based on originals by Peter Goodfellow, Geoff Taylor and Michael Trim

Of all the areas, the VR sequences were definitely some of the most impressive and they worked well to transport players from one area into another seamlessly. For example, at one point you sit down in a boat, don your headset, and off the boat gentle sails through London. By the time you emerge at the other end of this VR sequence (a bit wet and rather terrified), a clever lighting change gives the impression of being in an entirely different location. Quite clever, really!

According to the creators (Layered Reality) populating the immersive world they’ve created are 17 live actors too. These actors dip and out of your experience, setting the scene and guiding you along the way.

On the day we attended, it was this particular batch of actor’s final show day – and it was a lovely (albeit unexpected) treat to be joined by the bar after our experience by the actors themselves, who were absolutely fantastic.

Photo (c) Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive

Our Experience of the Apocalypse

Currently, you can only book The War of the World’s Immersive Experience in a team size that’s a multiple of 2 – so 2, or 4, or 6 etc. We went as a team of 4 on a quiet Sunday evening and were 8 other players for the show.

The show sizes are small and intimate, and it felt like the team had gone to good lengths to ensure everyone’s safety… Especially in light of the global pandemic. Masks were worn at all times and there were plenty of places along the experience to sanitise your hands, as well as regular cleaning of the equipment inbetween every group.

We weren’t sure what to expect, but what few expectations we did have were totally blown out of the water. Equal parts terrifying, and tense and thrilling, the experience jumped from scene to scene to scene in a fast paced retelling of the War of the Worlds. The story has been lovingly recreated by the Layered Reality team and stunned us from start to finish. Even now, days later, I’m still thinking about it and remembering some small detail in one of their amazingly intricately designed sets.

Was it fun? Oh yes, absolutely! It was incredible.

Was it worth the price? Well, this part is a little bit trickier to answer. The website says tickets start at £40, but we were unable to find any session in the next few months for less than £70 per person. This likely due to Christmas, and peak times – but we can’t help but compare it to escape rooms! This comes in at around double the cost of an average escape room. At this price point, it’s still absolutely worth it. So far, so good, except the experience is definitely geared towards making you spend even more. With two bars on-site that you are required to spend time in, and your team photo costing an extra £12, this puts the price more on the £100 per person range. Slightly cost prohibitive, but they have gone above and beyond making it worth the price. The verdict? Definitely worth it!

…And yes, we definitely did order a drink before to calm our nerves, and a celebratory drink afterwards… Or two… Or three!

Team The Escape Roomer about to enter The War of the Worlds Immersive

The Spirit of Man Bar & Restaurant

We’ve mentioned that there are two bars on this immersive adventure, and with both stocking a fantastic range of delicious cocktails, they’re well worth the trip! In the first, The Spirit of Man, customers are greeted by an enormous Martian towering over the tables pumping coloured steam into the dining area on a rotation times to the music.

The second bar is appropriately named The Red Weed Bar and is located at the 50% mark of your immersive experience. At this point, the Martians have truly taken over the world and those humans left are in hiding… Hiding in the sickly red world the Martians have created. Creepy!

Presently, the bar is offering it’s Christmas menu complete with themed food and cocktails. Whilst we were there we tried:

Christmas Eve of War

The Christmas Eve of War

A delicious concoction of: Dry vermouth, cointreau, disaronno, lemon juice & blackberry syrup. This comes in a martini-style glass and is decorated with blackberries and raspberries. This is one of their winter exclusive cocktails.

The Martiantini

Martiantini

Available all year round, the Martiantini contains Vodka, melon liqueur, green apple liqueur, lime, sugar & cherries.

Not into cocktails? Fear not – both menus also sport a range of regular beers, wines, and non-alcoholic beverages too.

The Verdict

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Immersive is like nothing else you can experience in London right now and I’m still humming along to the tunes and remembering small but delightful moments days later. My only real regret is not going in the first few months – oh why did I wait so long! *shakes fist at the global pandemic*

It’s a great experience for families, couples, or for a special occasion for that sci-fi fan in your life.

How soon is too soon before I can book another ticket, eh?

Tickets for Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds Immersive Experience can be purchased on their website here.

Rating

Swamp Motel: The Drop | Review

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At the centre of London’s criminal underworld lies a centuries-old secret. In 1912, two Bloomsbury bookbinders created a luxurious jewelled binding for a book that became known as The Great Omar. Hugely valuable, the book found a buyer and was packed safely aboard a boat bound for New York. On the 15th of April 1912 the HMS Titanic sank, leaving the book forever lost at sea. Its secrets were never recovered.

Until now. In an unassuming building in London, a sea of secrets is waiting to be revealed. Enter a hidden world as you descend into the dark underbelly of international crime and prepare yourselves to face The Drop.

Will you beat the villain, or become one?

Completion Time: ~ 90 minutes
Date Played: 10th November 2021
Party Size: 4

About one in every ten articles I write, I find myself writing then deleting and re-writing the opening lines over and over. Trying to explain how amazing Swamp Motel’s latest immersive experience “The Drop” is one of those times. I mean, where do we even begin?

In an exciting race against the clock, The Drop transports players to the criminal underworld of London in search of a long lost and highly valuable book. For those 90 minutes, we were the stars in our own action thrilled drama and my heart didn’t stop pounding once. The Drop is an experience like no other and if you’re fans of escape-room type immersivity, it’s unmissable.

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

Introducing Swamp Motel

Swamp Motel is an award-winning immersive theatre company, best known for creating Plymouth Point, The Mermaid’s Tongue, The Kindling Hour – now known collectively as the Isklander Trilogy. Most recently the team was also involved in creating Panic: The Experience in collaboration with Amazon Prime. The Drop marks a departure from their at-home genre however, with it’s first live, in-person experience since lockdown.

Located at 55 Aldgate High Street, The Drop takes place in an unassuming office building owned by ‘Hopkins Stearne’ – oh hey, I recognise that name from Isklander! We knew we were in for a treat.

What to Expect in The Drop

The Drop takes place in small intimate teams of 2 – 4 players and is strictly limited to 20 sessions per day. It’s somewhere between playing an escape room, experiencing live immersive theatre, and starring in the latest James Bond film. In my case, a shorter, rounder, blue haired James Bond – but let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and run with it.

Players arrive at the mysterious Hopkins Stearne offices, are greeted by the receptionist, and then told to head into the lift and up to Floor 3. It’s very hard to tell where your game begins (or ends, for that matter) but it’s all part of the immersive world Swamp Motel have created to feel a little lost and apprehensive.

So let’s address the elephant in the room: Lifts. If the trailer weren’t a giveaway, The Drop largely takes place inside a lift. Or an elevator, for our American audience. If you are claustrophobic there is a safe word, but one thing that is important to keep in mind is that The Drop is just a game and as realistic as it may seem, you aren’t in any danger.

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

What followed was 90 minutes of a whirlwind adventure that took us through several jaw-dropping physical spaces. To me, the highlight of the experience was how much attention to detail went into each set. Swamp Motel take blurring the boundaries of what is real and what is fiction very seriously, and this is no more evident than in the spaces they create.

At times the story was a little hazy. It’s easy to forget why you were there or who each character was. But I think that’s a natural sacrifice of having a fast-paced game: sometimes those small jigsaw pieces which come together to make a whole picture at the end are lost in the noise.

But if you are narrative driven, then keep in mind that your quest is to retrieve the book of The Great Omar, assumed lost to sea in 1912 when the HMS Titanic sank. The catchy tag line of the experience is “Will you beat the villain, or become one?” which perfectly sets the stage for the shady, criminal underbelly you’ll encounter. After all, sometimes the best way to beat a villain is to become one yourself!

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

“Not gonna lie I’m a little bit stressed…”

In terms of the puzzles, they were a little on the easier side and largely weighted towards the beginning of the experience. That said, being on the ‘easier’ side is no criticism and worked really well for a fast-paced experience like this. In each unique area there was at least one puzzle to be solved, not to mention the brilliant meta puzzle of cracking the whole case and figuring out what is going on.

Whilst we don’t want to spoil anything for any players, we will mention that these puzzles felt right at home in an escape room but had the added benefit of being extra mimetic – meaning they weren’t solving codes for the sake of it, everything made sense in the universe.

Thankfully, in case you get stuck, you have a near constant line of communication between various live actors and Swamp Motel staff who take a Games Master role in co-ordinating the experience and nudging teams along who may be struggling. Compared to escape rooms where phones are not allowed in the room, The Drop actually requires you to have fully charged phones – you’ll need them!

In one moment involving a text-chat, an “Are you okay?” message popped through. By this point most our the group were occupied with solving puzzles or trying not to get killed. So the most calm and collected in our group coolly typed back his response:

“yeah I’m not gonna lie I’m a little stressed”

In hindsight, I think that completely sums up the entire The Drop experience. From start to finish there’s no relief from the action. You’re on your toes and moving fast – and we loved every second of it!

The Drop | Photo by Mark Senior

The Verdict

To reveal too much more about the game would take away from the amazing experience. Expect the unexpected – The Drop is packed with twists and turns and some brilliant reveals. So what we’ve mentioned in this review is just a part – and a small part at that – of what you can expect when you play.

After the game we were very lucky to be invited to the press reception where we got a chance to talk to the creators of the show. It made me realise that they had a huge vision in mind when they put the experience together, and really pushed the boundaries on what is possible in a live immersive experience.

Tickets to The Drop are £39.95 and the game runs from now until December 31st, 2021. With such a limited number of spaces, you’ll regret it if you miss it! Be sure to book The Drop quickly before it sells out!

The Drop can be booked on www.thedropexperience.co.uk

Ratings

The Egg Assembly: Routes | Review

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You’re a stranger here, who you trust is a choice. So, choose. When your friend goes unexpectedly missing, you are the one tasked with finding the answers. But, in a dangerous world of high-stakes dealings, rapidly eroding ancient lands, and volatile shifting alliances, do you have what it takes to untangle the web?

Rating: Unique!
Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 3rd June 2021
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: The environmentally conscious

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the words environmental crime thriller… But heck, I think that’s the best way to go into this interactive show. Routes was so immersive and exciting. I felt on edge from the moment it started, asking myself whether I should be there and what kind of difference I could make to this story as it unfolded precariously around me.

At it’s core, Routes is a cross between the video game “Papers, Please”, a theatre performance, and a play at home escape room. The idea is deceptively simple – one of your friends Axle is missing. He’s left behind a trail of breadcrumbs but, due to the sensitive nature of his work, you can’t alert the authorities yet. Instead you’ve got to access his laptop and see what you can dig up in his files and password protected documents. Your main aim is to find out what happened to your friend. Is he alive? Where could he be? But you must hurry, the connection will only last 1 hour!

The ‘keep a low profile’ aspect was actually what made this game brilliant for me. You see, Axle has a day job at the Ministry of Parks and Preservation. Applications for logging permits come in at regular intervals, as do emails from his boss and other colleagues. You’ve got to approve forms, reject forms, and most importantly try not to do anything out of character.

For this reason I’m glad it only lasted an hour as I made the ‘mistake’ of not even reading the new employee induction document and I probably let through a LOT of dodgy logging permits. Oops! That explains the angry emails from my boss.

For sure, it is less a traditional ‘escape room’ style experience, Routes feels more like a discovery game – a treasure trove of information as you dig further and further into the rich landscape they’ve created. It’s intriguing each time you crack a password and access a USB, or another hidden folder – but all the while you’re pulled back into the ‘present day’ as *ping* a new email from your boss comes through.

The video content you find and discover weaves a tapestry of a story tackling big environmental issues and, after choosing your own ending, the game also leaves us with a startling message which, despite the fictional setting, grounds us in the real life disaster that is deforestation.

Overall, it’s utterly charming and excellently designed to give a sense of tension all the while easing you slowly into the story. Lately I’ve been super impressed by escape room-style games and immersive theatre designed by young people and Routes is no different. 23 young creatives at the Egg Assembly have put together this performance piece in a comparatively short amount of time and honestly… They’ve aced it!

A day later I’m left wondering if I did make the right decision in the end. Thankfully, the game will let you replay as many times as you like in the same day any time between 2pm – midnight. Will you make a different choice the second time round? Will you discover something new? It’s worth giving it a go!

Routes is running from the 1st – 31st of June and tickets can be purchased from Theatre Royal Bath for £10.

Kaleider: The Money Live | Review

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The Money. Theatre where YOU the audience is in charge. Kaleider, one of the world’s leading companies in extraordinary live arts, presents The Money®. The show that can lead to some incredible acts of kindness, some moments of madness and always a fascinating conversation about the value of money and what is important.

It is May 2021 and theatres are finally allowed to reopen after an agonisingly long second-lockdown. So, when I was invited to some see (or should I say play) The Money Live, I absolutely jumped at a chance to be in another space other than the four walls of my apartment… And what a show to return to!

With a super limited run of only 8 weeks, The Money is a show you’ve absolutely got to try and catch before it ends.

How does it work?

The idea behind The Money is deceptively simple and yet makes for fantastic entertainment! At the start of the show there is a pot of money, a judge, and a timer counting down from 60 minutes. It’s our job (the audience) to decide how we spend this pot of money. Fail and we get nothing!

Watch… Or Play?

The audience is divided into 2 types of players:

  1. The Players – those at the centre of the action, they are deciding how to spend the money.
  2. The Silent Witnesses – unless they ‘buy in’, these players cannot influence the decision

The Rules

  • The money cannot be split between Players
  • The money cannot be spent on a charity
  • The money cannot be used for anything illegal
  • How, when and where the money will be spent must be unanimously agreed on by all Players
  • The Silent Witnesses cannot influence Players in any way whatsoever
  • …Unless they spend £20 to ‘buy in’ to the game. Then they may have a say in what happens to the money
  • If the timer runs out and no decision is made, the money rolls over to the next show

My Experience

We played on a warm, sunny bank holiday Sunday, so it was absolutely no surprise that the first suggestion was to spend the pot of money at a nearby pub to get drinks for everyone. Quickly, this idea was shot down in the favour of more charitable suggestions, building to a climax near the end where the timer read just 5 minutes and still no unanimous decision had been made… *gasp*

I played The Money as a Silent Witness which, unsure of exactly how the game would run (or what I’d spend the money on) made a lot of sense. This didn’t mean we weren’t a part of it however. At any point in the game Silent Witnesses can chuck their £20 note onto the table and ‘buy in’ as a Player.

In our game, a lot of people bought in. Probably around 5 or 6… Bringing the pot up by a healthy £120! The atmosphere was electric though. Even after vowing not to buy in, my hand was hovering over my wallet at so many points in the game. There’s a real pull to throw yourself into the ring and see if you can win the money for yourself, or even just to have a voice to argue with someone you disagree with. THAT is the pull of the game.

In all, the experience felt a lot like a social experiment. A lot of questions were thrown around about the value of money – how could we make a meaningful impact with the money? How can we judge a deserving cause? Are we even the right people to make that decision? There was something oddly Kafka-esque about the whole spectacle. I loved it!

Photo (c) The Money Live

London County Hall

Even though The Money Live has been run all around the world including in Australia, Nigeria and China, Kaleider could not have picked a better venue in London than the London County Hall. This venue has also hosted the infamous “Witness for the Prosecution” play pre-lockdown, and it makes sense! The tall vaulted ceiling and cold marble really lends itself to an atmosphere of being judged.

The Conclusion

In our showing, we unanimously chose to spend the money on a musician to perform in COVID-19 wards in North Wales. I say unanimously, but as a Silent Witness I quietly thought that some of the other Players gave better suggestions. But unless I was prepared to put my money where my mouth was, I had to stay quiet!

All in all, the experience was really different and I highly recommend giving it a go if you’re in London (or indeed another city it’s showing at). In just 60 minutes you’ll see the best and the worst of the human race, feel very frustrated, feel sympathetic, feel thankful, but most of all will exit the theatre wondering the big question: “What would I spend the money on?”

Tickets for The Money Live can be purchased for £20 on The Money’s website.

ANTS Theatre: We Still Fax | Review

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You receive a mysterious machine in the post. You plug it in and something strange happens… You connect with an alternate dimension; one in which the internet doesn’t exist and someone needs your help! To take on this important mission, you will need to crack codes, send faxes, unlock secret hatches and, when the time comes, push the big, red button. They are counting on you; their world depends on it.

Rating: Extraordinary!
Completion Time: 2hr +30 minutes for Easter Eggs
Date Played: 28th May 2021
Party Size: 6
Recommended For: People who know how to fax, and enjoy interdimensional travel between universes.

Disclaimer: No ants were hurt in the writing of this review! Despite my postman cautiously handing me an enormous box that says ANTS and pictures of ants on it, I can confirm there are no live ants in this game… Probably.

If there were any ants, they’ve travelled an extremely long way through many parallel universes to get here.

But do you know what there IS a lot of in this game? Faxing.

To prepare to play this game I extensively Googled what that word means… “What is a fax machine”, “Youtube Fax Machine tutorial”, “Why would people fax?”, and “Do Fax Machines still exist?”. I also enrolled the help of an absolute power house team consisting of Brett, Rich and Krista from the USA, and Phill joining me from the UK.

So how does this work?

We Still Fax is an immersive theatre experience played on a Fax Machine! It’s available from February – June 2021 in London, UK. Sadly, at the time of writing, it looks as if they’ve sold out until the end of the run – but that’s not to say We Still Fax won’t return again some day soon!

With humble beginnings as an Indiegogo campaign last year, We Still Fax might well be one of the most exciting play at home escape room games I’ve played so far this 2021? And that’s coming from me 2 weeks after escape rooms have reopened. This game is so immersive, quirky and ‘out-there’ that it defies definition and has excited me more than any other play at home game in a long, long time.

If I had to categorise We Still Fax, it would be a cross between live immersive theatre and tabletop escape room. The idea is simple – ANTS Theatre sends you a large Fax Machine in the post. This Fax Machine is a relic from another universe… A universe the same up until one key divergent point: The internet was never adopted and people still fax.

At your allocated time you open the box, dial the Helpline, perform your Fax Machine health checks and the game begins! Thankfully, as this game is Games Master-ed means that if anything does go wrong, they’re on hand to help.

The Story

The story centres around your Fax Machine, named Berna 3.142. In a strange blip in the space time continuum, Berna arrives into your possession and from here she acts as a communication device between you and a parallel universe. In this parallel universe the internet was never invented, Blockbuster and Woolworths are booming, Mars is on fire, Elon Musk is missing, and Jeremy Corbyn is in charge of the UK.

In this strange universe there’s somebody at the other end of the line, and they need your help! You’ve got to work together with your fax machine and save the day. The universe is counting on you!

As you power through the main storyline you’ll probably miss A LOT, but you’ve a handy 30 minutes at the end of your game to explore Easter Eggs along the way. By “Easter Egg”, I mean numbers you can dial on the fax machine’s phone to get additional content. There are around 20 of these numbers hidden throughout the game in the most unexpected places.

Ff you want to fully understand the world ANTS Theatre have created, you’ll want to press every single number you can. I absolutely adored the lore and worldbuilding the Easter Eggs in We Still Fax provided. Even now, days later, I’m itching to know more about the world – more about Berners Lee, Elon Musk, and more about the secret mystery of spoons.

The Fax Machine

Ok, so I have no idea what a fax machine is supposed to look like – but I’m fairly sure they don’t sing, flash rainbow colours, and pour smoke from a chimney at the back. But what do I know? I’m only from this universe.

Berna is the real star of the show throughout. What a beauty! We were warned she’d break if we insulted her, but it was easy to treat such a majestic machine with the respect she deserved! All that blue and pink flashing… *hair flick* I think Berna and I have a lot in common.

The Puzzles & Interactivity

Puzzles to solve come in a few forms, they’ll either be faxed to you, or they’ll exist on the machine itself. Players can expect to have to hunt around for 3 digit codes, padlocks and keys as well as analyse the ciphers and codes that come through intermittently.

More important than the puzzles were the moments of interactivity with the fax machine that the game presented. Funny “aha!” moments and surprising twists. By fax you’ll also be prompted to draw diagrams, answer questions and tick boxes, sacrifice objects (or in our case, people!) all whilst faxing back and forth in a two way dialogue with another universe. At one point something we said into the telephone receiver was played back to us which absolutely blew my mind! It was a real ‘wow’ moment how well it fit in, and I almost didn’t recognise my own voice.

I’d also be remiss not to mention how much I enjoyed the music. It was incredibly vibey. From “Dare” by Gorillaz, to hits from the 90s, to music composed entirely of the dialup tones. Did I mention the game’s also got the Nokia ringtone in it? Yeah. Can’t unhear that!

Playing Remotely

As a final note, I wanted to mention our specific experience as we didn’t play the game exactly as it was intended to play. There was a partial team ‘on-site’ as it were, playing with the physical box. Other team members followed along closely via Zoom. If you intend to play this way, I’d definitely get in touch with the team to help facilitate this!

Screenshot by Brett

Another note is that whilst playing We Still Fax we did come across a couple of technical hitches, but after chatting to the team after the game it seems like these are incredibly rare. For example, we were unable to join the call at the start of the game due to a software update on that very day, and later our ‘signal amplifier’ ran out of battery unexpectedly, requiring a remote reset. It also probably didn’t help playing the game with a team spread out across the world via Zoom, so we’re happy to forgive any hiccups. Thankfully the game is GMed remotely by the team, so they’ll very quickly pick up any issues that might arise!

Overall

I absolutely adored this game! Purchased as an early birthday present for myself and played along with some of the loveliest escape room people I know made it an all round great experience. If nothing else, We Still Fax is unbelievably quirky and innovative an experience! I mean… An escape room played on a fax machine? Wild. It’s made all the better by ANTS Theatre’s excellent writing and world building.

I can’t believe I’m saying it but… I hope more escape room games are played by fax machine in the future!

We Still Fax can be booked for £60 via Design My Night. Check out the ANTS Theatre website here.