We’d played a couple of CoLab Theatre’s previous games and had plenty of fun, so it didn’t take much to encourage us to sign up for the final instalment of the Astra trilogy they’ve been running over the past couple of years. In an unusual twist, we were told where to meet but, rather than being greeted by one of the actors, we were given a phone number to text and then told to wait for a response.
That sort of thing always makes me nervous – what if my phone network had gone down or the text message was delayed or the website that we were told to access immediately afterwards didn’t work? It felt to me like they didn’t have a good plan in place to handle the inevitable technical issue. Certainly, I wasn’t given a backup plan of what to do if I sent my text message and got nothing back, which gave me a stressful couple of minutes hanging around as everyone else got an almost immediate response and my phone remained steadfastly silent.
I don’t think it will come as much of a shock, given the instructions they send you, to say that the opening segment of this game involves listening to a series of audio instructions. Having played Wiretapper, an immersive audio experience in the heart of London, in the summer, I’d seen the very best that this could be with a hundred people wandering round London in unison. That undoubtedly coloured my opinion of this opening section and I was left quite disillusioned with the experience. It wasn’t helped by the fact that my phone decided to stop the audio we were listening to a couple of times, so I ended up playing catch-up behind the rest of my team and worrying that I might end up totally missing out on the final rendezvous point.
That brings me along to one of the things I really liked about the game: guiding you with audio rather than an actor meant they could split the teams up. Furthermore, if your fellow players weren’t your friends, you’d keep seeing the same people suspiciously following a similar but not identical route to yours. I think this game would work really well for random players who didn’t know each other. Who’s friend and who’s foe?
Because people can get lost or delayed in that opening section, there’s a long wait when you do finally rendezvous, which left us corralled for fifteen minutes with nothing to do. Had it been a rainy evening, it would have been pretty miserable. It wasn’t, though, so all that happened is that I managed to find myself bored, waiting around for the game to continue. That’s not a feeling I really expect to have when playing something from Colab.
When we did finally regroup, we were taken on to the second part of the experience by one of the main characters in the game, and things started to improve. The central location for this game is really quite impressive, and they’ve done a great job kitting it out with plenty of different areas for set scenes. When we got there, we were constantly thrown off balance – not really sure what to do but in a way that worked well and was consistent with the theme.
It was a rapid-fire change from scene to scene to scene, never giving you long enough to become comfortable in one location before moving on to the next experience. There were probably seven or eight different locations used in little over half an hour, but the transitions worked well and it certainly didn’t feel like we were just being pushed around. The drama played out and, in spite of us taking things a little bit off the script, they handled it all without a blink and got us through to the ending of the game without missing a beat.
Sadly, that ending was a bit of a damp squib. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure what it even was, but one thing I’m sure of: when you finish a game you should know exactly when it ends. There needs to be a crescendo, ideally one where you see several of the characters or at least one of the central ones. I’ll always think back to our first Colab production, Hostage, with its ending which seemed so perfect, and this just didn’t get anywhere near that level.
It wasn’t helped by there being a shooting range tacked on to the end. I wasn’t really sure what the point of it was other than to encourage you to hang around at their pop-up bar. We stayed around but I regretted it. Firing a BB gun isn’t that much fun and, given the choice between hanging around in a not very nice warehouse cellar or heading off to a cosy pub to chat about the game, I know which one I’d choose next time…
Overall, while I admire them for trying a few new things here, this felt like the poorest of the Colab Theatre productions I’ve attended. The opening half just didn’t work for me. The second half improved massively, with plenty of fun scenes, generally good acting and some impressive sets. Unfortunately, it lost its way right at the end and seemed to peter out.
We made a last minute decision to eat at Simply Indian, halfway between our end point and Borough Market. It was by no means the best Indian restaurant I’ve visited but it’s a decent option if you’re in the area.