I’ve really enjoyed some of the immersive theatre that I’ve attended in the past, but I’ve always felt there was something missing. A feeling that we were just following a script (albeit one we didn’t know), and that we’d end up at the same destination pretty much regardless of what we did. It should come as no surprise then, that when a friend contacted me about going to Block Stop’s Counter Call, I immediately said yes. Would it manage to bridge the gap between immersive theatre and escape games? Read on…
The backdrop to this game (which is how Block Stop themselves referred to it) was the uncovering of a government plot to take control of every aspect of the population’s lives – what they do, what they think, how they vote. Our mission was to locate a key player in this conspiracy and “deal” with them. Along the way we’d have to crack codes, gather intelligence and interact with some of the key characters.
And so it was that we headed down to the Vaults at Waterloo on a Friday night for a little bit of spycraft. I’d not been down before, but it’s a fantastic venue for this sort of event. The walk down a long tunnel, graffiti artists at work, murals adorning every surface, a group of bikers spinning wheels – sounds and smells pervaded the space. A few minutes after the meeting time, our contact appeared, immediately in character and gave us a brief introduction before leading us inside.
The backdrop of the inside of the Vaults was impressive. The music and conversation reverberating off the walls, the odd hue of the lighting, the packed crowds, people constantly coming and going. As we sat down at a bench with our host, I scanned the crowd, wondering which were participants, and which were innocent bystanders. It was, at the least, ambitious to run a game in such a packed location, but the atmosphere that it lent to the game was priceless. The fact that the vast majority of the people in there had absolutely no idea what we were up to just added to the fun.
The background noise did mean that hearing our host was tough. We squeezed in as close as possible to catch every word, to try to get a handle on what we were doing, paranoid that we might miss something critical. We needn’t have worried – all the important information was given to us again in other forms.
The main mission briefing over, we split up into teams to complete our sub-missions. This part was very much game, with only our handler and the fact that we were in a public location adding an immersive theatre angle. By escape game standards it was reasonably straightforward, but that’s almost inevitable when you’re trying to mesh two distinct forms of entertainment or you’ll end up excluding people.
Before long we’d got past those initial puzzles and got a clear picture of how to proceed. Again, this was very much based on splitting up, which was coherent with the plot, but did mean we missed out on significant parts of the narrative. In fact – the particular role I took ended up with almost no actor interaction, whereas other members of our team got quite a lot. It’s hard to feel too aggrieved though – that fitted the plot just fine, and where they got interaction, I got a bit more game and suspense.
Finally, our mission complete, we headed back outside. It was a little jarring when our handler dropped out of character right at the end to congratulate us on our play. I remember back to Hostage where we just ran off into the night, never once admitting that this was a performance. I like being able to thank the performers, but I think, on balance, maintaining the illusion is more important, so I wish they’d done something similar.
Overall, I’d recommend it. I could say it’s not quite immersive enough, and not quite puzzly enough to fit in either of the obvious camps, but I think the right way to look at this is a great crossover. Make your immersive theatre a bit more gamey or make your puzzles a bit more theatrical. Whichever side you’re coming from, I think this is a clear win.
Sadly, though, Counter Call has long since sold out, and it’s now finished its run anyway, so you can’t get tickets, but there is a strong suggestion they’ll return soon – fingers crossed!