A marvellous mystery... But no time to solve it!
This weekend I attended the latest immersive theatrical production London has to offer. The Game's Afoot is a new piece brought to us by Les Enfants Terribles and ebp (those masterminds behind Alice's Adventures Underground), and invites us into the world of Sherlock Holmes. There are two different cases that need to be cracked - The Case of the Poisonous Poet and The Case of the Bloodthirsty Beast - and these alternate in the performance schedule. It was this critic's task to solve the latter by roaming the purposefully designed spaces of Victorian London at Madame Tussauds, searching for hidden clues and interrogating actors ('suspects') in an attempt to piece together the mystery. Oh, and by the way, you have approximately 60 minutes to do so... On your mark, get set, go!
Herein lies the fundamental problem of The Game's Afoot. I must tip my deerstalker hat to writers Oliver Lansley and Anthony Spargo, who have ingeniously created mysteries worthy of the Great Detective himself, filled with those twists and turns, secrets and motives that we have all grown to love from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. However, as members of the general public, "Sherlock Holmes, we ain't!" and sadly, 60 minutes isn't anywhere near enough time to wholly crack the case and get total satisfaction from your evening's efforts. At the same time, if the production was twice as long, the game would soon become tiresome and we risk a drop in the patrons' enthusiasm. 'Dumbing' down the cases for the general public would also prove a disappointment to those die-hard, intellectual Sherlock fans, who may be the core demographic at which this production is aimed. So, that is the mystery that this creative team needs to re-consider, because they are really sitting on a gem here.
At the performance I attended, nobody was able to answer all three vital questions of who, how and why, although one lady did show very promising detective skills and was able to piece together an impressive amount of the puzzle. She should be snapped up by Scotland Yard pronto! Others fared less well.
Samuel Wyer's sets are classic and true to Holmes' Victorian London, with astonishing attention to detail. The eight different spaces, which include Baker Street, the East India Docks, a mortuary, an old crypt and Holmes' study itself among others, are atmospherically gloomy with just the right tone set by lighting designer Mike Gunning. Directed by Oliver Lansley and James Seager, the success of each performance lies heavily on the shoulders of a fine cast of young actors, who obviously have their back stories but have to react on the spot to whatever we, as new detectives, throw at them. They have certain scenes they play out with each other that you can bare witness to, if you're at the right place at the right time, but the emphasis is on you to interact with them and get as much information and as many clues out of them as possible. Alongside the five possible suspects, there are also actors whose function is to aid you on your journey. So, if you find yourself struggling, Dr Watson, Chief Lestrade and the Coroner are never far away. This is no easy job for the cast members and there were some fine performances by some uber-talented and quick-witted actors throughout the evening.
When Big Ben strikes and your time is up, you have to congregate in the area associated with the particular suspect you believe committed the crime and then an appearance by a very special detective leads to the unravelling of the mystery in a final scene with the entire cast.
For those who suffer from chronic cases of shyness or are perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer, this may well be a case of immersive hell. But for true fans of Sherlock and for those intellectual theatregoers out there, who wish to mentally challenge and stimulate themselves, The Game's Afoot is a slice of whodunnit heaven!
What the Press Said...
"It is wonderful to spend time in Holmes’s world – Dr Watson is even on hand to help you out and there's a nice cameo from a certain consulting detective too – but it’s too fleeting and too cramped. More time and less people would make for a vastly improved experience."
Chris Bennion for The Telegraph
"On the whole, it was a thoroughly enjoyable hour, I just wish we’d had more time to rifle through all the neat little details of the set and really get to know the suspects."
Emily Jupp for The Independent
"Madame Tussauds has been mocked up — expertly, lovingly — to become a labyrinth of period suspicion."
Dominic Maxwell for The Times