[Note that we experienced a technical difficulty that affected the performance – make sure you read the whole review to get the picture]
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll know that reviewing things that you can’t talk about is pretty much standard around here, but this experience takes that to a whole new level. There’s almost nothing I can say about this experience, but I’m never one to avoid a challenge…
After a day of games, it was time for some immersive theatre. Wiretapper is a “public audio project” set in the centre of London and… well, that’s about all you get told before you buy tickets. Even the location is a closely guarded secret that you only learn on the morning of the show. Suffice it to say, we were totally unsure of what we were about to experience when we descended on our secret London location at 8:30pm on a Saturday evening, but we’d downloaded the app, brought along our headphones and were all ready for the show to start.
A brief “please wait” and we were into the show. At least, three out of four of us were. The fourth person’s app just wouldn’t start the audio. This highlighted two huge problems with the experience that I’d been kind of ignoring. Firstly, there was no “test” audio to listen to. Nothing to check that your system was working beyond the app loading. Just a hope that, come 8:30pm, everything would go smoothly. Secondly, if things didn’t work out, there was no one to contact, no number to call. In a theatre performance or an escape room you’ve got someone to complain to, but here, nothing. I think that’s a big mistake – our problematic experience could have been avoided with a little bit of planning here.
It was what it was, though, so we did the only thing we could and shared headphones with the unlucky victim. For the first ten minutes she was with one person, and for the rest of the performance she was with me. I feel sorry because she missed out on experiencing the total immersion that the rest of us got, even if it was only for a brief period in my case. Enough of that, though, let’s talk about the show!
For me the coolest part of this experience was their ability to mess with our reality via the audio track. It was a strange experience being in a public place with plenty of random people as well as a reasonably sized audience and yet feel that this was an intimate show where the cast might speak to you at any point. While the use of headphones meant it was generally reasonably obvious who your fellow audience members were, it wasn’t always so clear who the actors were, and they often left you wondering about whether someone was in on the act or not.
The weak point was the story – or lack thereof. It felt to me like there were two or three different story lines that intersected in nonsensical ways (and, even taking them individually, ‘story’ is a strong term!). I’ve seen a lot of comments from people saying that the story didn’t make sense, and they’re right, but here’s the thing: It didn’t need to. If you settled back and allowed yourself to be the wiretapper that the name suggested, you didn’t need to understand what was going on. You were a voyeur, looking on at the scene, trying to make sense without the full information. You could enjoy the confusion of the characters, the intimacy of listening in on a conversation to which you weren’t invited and occasionally latch on to snippets of scenes that seemed coherent. Were you even meant to be able to understand what was going on? I have no idea. Perhaps I was at an advantage because that initial confusion over what I was meant to be doing, caused by sorting out the headphones problem, left me constantly trying to catch up and happy to be slightly lost.
The finale to the event was well constructed, in a theatre-like public space with a central show watched by a mixture of audience and non-audience members. The confusion of some of the onlookers added nicely to the experience, especially when you saw them start to join in without understanding why. I’ve never been part of a flash mob, but it definitely showed the attraction. And then, as swiftly as it had begun, it was over. The characters headed off into the distance and we were left making sense of the spectacle which we’d just seen. No, which we’d just been a part of.
I contacted them afterwards and, while I suspect that this wasn’t the only occurrence of the technical issue, the speed with which they were willing to compensate us makes me confident that it isn’t a widespread problem. If you ignore the technical difficulties that my friend had, and the resulting effect on my experience, then this was a fun hour. The ability to mess with your reality using sound was impressive and while the story was confusing (assuming there even was a story), the theatrical performance was solid and being part of a pseudo-flash mob was interesting.