Before the event
A game involving Les Enfants Terribles, Madame Tussaud’s and Sherlock Holmes? Hell, yes, I’m in. It may have been pricey but, if you’ve got a show that takes one of London’s most impressive immersive theatre companies and puts it in a place with fantastically detailed sets and you design a game themed around Sherlock Holmes then, in all likelihood, you’re going to produce something special.
Or possibly, two things special, because there are two games on offer here, alternating each night. We headed down on a Monday evening to try out the Case of the Poisonous Poet. After showing out tickets and checking our belongings into the cloakroom, we gathered in a small bar area waiting for the adventure to begin and to start eliminating the impossible…
We were given a map, a list of suspects and victims (shared by everyone) and a clue (where different people had different clues) before being welcomed by a policeman who explained the backstory to what had been happening – a series of murders where each person was found stabbed through the heart with a poisoned pen. We were the police and our job was to find out who the murderer was before they struck again. We had one hour before we would have to confront the guilty party and hope we were right.
As soon as the briefing was over, I set off to talk to the character mentioned in my initial clue. I had only moments after I arrived to make use of my clue because, as would become a theme during the evening, the world is constantly changing. Things that you might be able to see at the beginning might disappear, while other things might be hidden at the start and not make an appearance until later. Characters might have brief interactions that you might be lucky enough to see but were more likely to miss. There is an incredible amount of luck involved, but I don’t think the luck really matters. As with the real world, there are invariably multiple ways to find something out, and you should focus more on the luck when you have it than when you miss out. Those extra little scenes added colour to the experience, giving you the feeling that you got to see a part of the show that others missed out on.
As I wandered round talking to each of the characters in turn, I found myself really enjoying delving into their backstory and asking them questions that I might put to any random person I met. The speed with which they ad-libbed their answers was impressive, occasionally even turning my questions around to put me on the back foot. What I failed to do was actually interrogate them. Remember I was meant be a policeman? Well, I didn’t, so I spent a short while with each suspect, chatting to them about random things before circling around to the question I actually wanted to ask. I’m used to immersive theatre where they’re on a schedule and are guiding you towards the end result. This was much more authentic and the actors were quite happy to just chat and give you nothing of use.
Half way through the game, having talked to all but one of the suspects and visited all but one of the rooms, I had little clue what was going on. In fact, I would never visit that final room. Somehow – and I don’t understand how I managed this – I totally failed to find one of the locations on the map. Early on I decided that I didn’t need the map because I’d just wander round and find everywhere. Once I’d talked to all the suspects, I assumed I’d managed that, but I was wrong. And that was a mistake.
As the clock ticked down, I wandered round all the places again, searching through the belongings of the victims, talking to all the suspects, asking Lestrade and Dr. Watson for help and finally starting to get a vague picture of the plot. Before I knew it, the bells started to chime and it was time to choose the guilty party and confront them.
Five of our team made the right deduction and most of them had more or less worked out all the details. Sadly, I was not one of those five. I was entirely lost, enjoying chatting to the different characters but never really making much progress on finding out who did it.
This show was very close to brilliant. The acting was phenomenal – they took everything I threw at them and handled it brilliantly. I thoroughly enjoyed the immersive theatre – both the general interactions and the random vignettes they threw in. The set, as you would expect at Madame Tussaud’s, was beautiful and really carried the feeling of Victorian London. The finale was brilliantly created. However, I totally misunderstood the premise and, while most of the blame lies with me, I think they could have done better by having a clear mechanism to save people who were somewhat adrift. In theory, you could talk to Lestrade or one of the other non-suspect actors, but in practice they don’t have any way of knowing how far you’ve got, so they end up giving you clues rather than schooling you on how to play the game (which they’d have to do in character of course!).
So, let me school you instead. You’re a policeman or woman. Your job is to investigate a crime and not to subtly inveigle your way into the characters’ lives as you might in other immersive theatre productions. Act just like you’re in the police and you will find this a far more rewarding experience. If I’d done that, I think I’d have thoroughly enjoyed it and, who knows, I might actually have solved the case.
In fact, I may yet solve one – as I said, they run two separate shows – so there’s still a chance for me to head down and find out that it really is elementary, my Dear Watson.