I’m a fan of immersive theatre and virtual reality experiences and had previously visited DotDotLondon’s first outing Somnai in spring 2018. When I heard they had created an immersive experience of Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, I was very intrigued. I vaguely knew the rough plotline of the original H.G. Wells’ novel from the 1890s which inspired Wayne’s album. I went along recently with a group of friends. While waiting for our time slot, we took a seat under a Martian in the steam-punk themed pub and restaurant, with sensational newspaper headlines and sinister changing paintings around us giving a hint of what’s to come.
At the beginning of our experience, we were taken to a ravaged room and were introduced to the characters of George Herbert and his fiancée Carrie projected as holograms. After describing the scene of the Martian invasion of 1898, we heard the familiar beats of Wayne’s theme song as our journey began. We were taken to a Victorian observatory and introduced to Ogilvy, the astronomer. Looking through the vintage telescopes, we spy a mysterious green light coming towards the Earth. It isn’t long before ‘something’ has crash-landed in Woking and Ogilvy appears to be burned alive in front of us by a ray beam – an effective, but quite horrifying bit of special effects. The scene really gets your heart racing and sets you up ready to flee.
The experience lasts 110 minutes and features a mix of virtual reality, holograms, pyrotechnics and immersive theatre. You’ll need to be active and be prepared to hide under a table, crawl through a tunnel and slide your way through tight spaces. You get to wear a virtual reality camera on about four occasions, including a haphazard boat trip escaping the Martians (complete with real water splashes!) and a balloon ride. Occasionally, the VR headset could be a bit glitchy, but it certainly transported you to another space. One VR scene in a confessional booth was a little scary, so much so I kept bending down and hiding, prompting an unseen staff member to encourage me to stand up! Seeing some of the men in my group transformed into Victorian women in the VR set was particularly humorous. Along the way, you have many encounters with castmembers in character, with one giving me some money to bribe a boatman, which was a successful transaction! One of the most memorable moments was crouching under a table in a shaking room in the pitch black, anticipating some awful creature about to come into the room. Halfway through your journey you get to stop off in the Red Weed Bar for a cocktail. Read the rest of this entry
The new decade is kicking off with a new immersive theatre show from Secret Theatre Project. The theatre collective, which was founded by Richard Crawford in 2008, has travelled the world with their unique site-specific immersive experiences. Following their recent sold-out run in Hong Kong, the Secret Theatre Project are launching their new production, The Invitation, in January 2020.
The Invitation is an immersive theatrical experience with the offer of an add-on dining option. Launching on 28 January, guests will be invited to a masquerade party in a five-star hotel in east London. Participants will wear disguises as they spend the evening in a world of action, murder and intrigue.
The action takes place at the fictional Masquerade Palace in the Edwardian Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. Once purchasing a ticket, guests are given a password and a set of instructions. The show is only on for 10 weeks and is expected to be a sought-after ticket.
- Secret Theatre Project presents The Invitation from 28 January – 5 April 2020. At the Masquerade Palace (Bethnal Green Town Hall), 8 Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, E2 9NF. Nearest station: Bethnal Green or Cambridge Heath. Tickets: £39.00-£109.99. For more information, visit the Secret Theatre Project website.
For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.
If you’re a fan of escape games and immersive experiences, this fun charity event could be right up your street. This November, KIDS are hosting an evening of murder mystery in trendy east London for one night only.
‘A Twist of the Rope’ will combine the traditional murder mystery format with live performances and an interactive escape room. Visitors will be taken on a mysterious journey to join the circus, where a killer is hiding in the world of ringmasters, lion tamers and mimes. Keep an eye out for clues, solve riddles, interrogate witnesses and unravel the secrets of the circus.
Guests are invited to help Detective Jones find out who killed the circus acrobat, found dead in her dressing room next to a mysterious vanishing cabinet. Aspiring investigators can take part in teams of 2-6 people.
Money raised from the event goes to KIDS, who support over 13,500 disabled children, young people and their families across Britain. Established in 1970, the charity provides over 120 different services and works with 80 local authorities across the country.
- Murder Mystery: A Twist of the Rope takes place on 13 November 2019. From 7.30pm-10.30pm. Over 18s only. Tickets: £30. Trapeze Bar, 89 Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, EC2A 3HX. Nearest station: Old Street. For more information, visit the KIDS charity website.
For a guide to what else is on in London this November, click here.
Feast on four courses as you join Toad, Badger and co.
Coming to London’s city farms this summer is a unique theatrical dining experience. Scripts for Supper launches its new production, The Wind In Willows, on 17 May 2019. Expect a fun and fabulous mix of great food, music, theatre, song and even dance.
Scripts for Supper comes from MasterChef 2016 semi-finalist Annie McKenzie with food by fellow MasterChef alum and finalist, chef and food writer Juanita Hennessey. The concept is classic stories brought to life with theatre and a bespoke menu. The actors double up as waiters so you are immersed into the Edwardian England inhabited by Toad, Badger, Mole and Ratty.
Diners are invited on a culinary, immersive theatrical journey in the new production of The Wind In The Willows, inspired by Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale. Launching at Stepney City Farm on 17 May 2019, it will also tour Spitalfields City Farm and Mudchute City Farm.
Scripts for Supper launched in 2017 following MA Acting graduate Annie’s appearance in MasterChef. Previous productions include Twelfth Night and The Lion; The Witch and The Wardrobe. Past experiences have won over critics, being hailed as “truly magical” and “phenomenal”. Scripts for Supper cater for children and vegetarians, as well as carnivores.
- Scripts for Supper presents The Wind In The Willows. 2019 dates: 17 – 19 May : Stepney City Farm; 24-26, 31 May and 1-2 June : Spitalfields City Farm; 29-30 June : Mudchute City Farm. Tickets: Adults £45 (inc welcome cocktails, canapes and a 4 course meal), Children £30. Times vary (matinee and evening sittings). For more information and booking, visit the Scripts for Supper website.
A special dining experience inspired by the hit fantasy drama.
Game Of Thrones is the show on everyone’s lips right now as the eighth and final series is currently hitting screens. Whether you’re aligned with the Lanisters or the Starks, there’s a special dining experience that could be right up your Westeros. Dinner Is Coming is a new immersive spoof dining adventure inspired by the hit fantasy drama. Guests can expect an exciting mix of theatre, comedy, food and murder in the tunnels below Waterloo station. The world of the Several Kingdoms will be created deep in the Vaults.
Dinner Is Coming, which launched in early April, tells the story of a marriage between heir Jaffrey Bearathon and Margarine Trywell. Guests will come together to celebrate the union of two families with a sumptuous feast. However, it won’t be smooth sailing, as there’s always a chance of violence or murder. Be prepared to pledge your love and loyalty to your kingdom.
The show is a new production from The Vaults’ creative team and directed by Sam Carrack. The fabulous feast has been designed by chefs Chavdar Todorov and Steven Estevez. Along with the food, guests will also enjoy a specially-designed drinks menu. Visitors will be invited to dress in accordance with their chosen house.
- Dinner Is Coming is on from 9 April – 14 July 2019. The Vaults, Leake Street, Waterloo, SE1 7NN. Nearest station: Waterloo or Lambeth North. Tickets: £35-£55 (inc booking fees). Runs 3 hours. Bar open until late on Fri and Sats. Dress code: Lords and ladies of Easteros. Ages 18 and over. All dietary requirements catered for. For more information and tickets, visit The Vaults website.
Anyone who read my blog often or follows my Instagram account has probably worked out I’m a fan of immersive theatre and experiences. The word has become somewhat of a buzzword in the events industry in recent years and I’ve had a range of brilliant to mediocre ‘immersive’ experiences. However, the recent resurgence in popularity of virtual reality (VR) technology, means this type of production can utilise another platform to expand their scope. Recently, a group of friends and I went along to Somnai, which has been described by its makers dotdotdot (dot dot London) as a ‘live, multi-sensory experience with immersive technologies’.
Checking out the website ahead of its March launch, there were little clues on what a Somnai session would be like. The event is marketed as a type of sleep clinic, with the chilling warning ‘may cause acute death’. Now, of course, this warning cannot be taken literally, but speaking in past tense, it certainly gets your heart racing at points. Somnai is located in a large, unassuming warehouse in Clerkenwell. You are advised to avoid alcohol beforehand so my five sober friends and I arrived in the clinical white reception, slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead. We were ‘checked in’ to the clinic, as we handed in our bags and coats and were given a Fitbit, a dressing gown and padded sleep socks. One by one, we were taken into a small room, where silent assistants scanned our faces with 3D mapping, which all felt rather Black Mirror.
We started our experience in our group of six, meeting our sleep guide, an ethereal and spiritual woman who eased us into the experience with a few probing questions about our dreams (e.g. if you could fly anywhere, where would you go? What motivates you?). We start by winding down and relaxing with a bedtime story as we lie on a giant teddy bear, before zooming through the galaxy under a planetarium-style sky.
The main phase of Somnai is putting on our ‘sleep masks’ – our virtual reality masks – and beginning our VR journey. I haven’t tried virtual reality since its infancy in the 1990s and it’s certainly come on since then (and I would hope so too!). We moved through various surreal landscapes, from underwater kingdoms to grand canyons. Despite a part of my brain not knowing this was real, I found it quite unsettling to step off the side of a cliff or ledge, which was the process to changing ‘worlds’ or ‘zones’. In addition to what we were seeing, we could use our senses by touching, such as feeling the wooden plank ‘drawbridge’ we were crossing under my feet, or stroking the furry plant life in the ocean world. The whole VR experience was amazing and disorienting at the same time. Discussing it afterwards, I realised I had been quite fearful during it and had perhaps become too immersed in these bizarre environments we thought we were in.
Following the VR walkabout, our group was separated and two of us ended up in a very strange and spooky set of rooms. Without giving too much away, we were given a choice, ultimately made the wrong one, and ended our Somnai journey with a particularly scary 2nd session with the VR cameras. For this, our friends and I were reunited in a white hospital ward with masked attendants guiding us to lie in bed and putting on our ‘sleep masks’. I felt like we were in an asylum in a horror film. For the two of us who made the wrong choice, what we saw in the VR was rather unsettling and sent our heart rates up.
Finally, we all ended up in the digital bar, which is constantly evolving with different phases, each with a matching cocktail menu. If you download their app, your cocktail should do strange things when you scan it. With the app, we were able to check our heart rate throughout the process and see a quite horrifying (in my case!) 3D scan of my head. Overall, it was interestingly weird and enjoyable. The plot wasn’t quite coherent, but the mix of senses, VR sights and the cast provided a new and thought-provoking experience. Our group had much to discuss in the cocktail bar afterwards as we discussed our different experiences and interpreted meaning from the various surreal levels. If you’re intrigued about virtual reality, I recommend checking it out while it’s still on.
- Somnai, 2 Pear Tree Street, Clerkenwell, EC1V 3SB. Nearest stations: Farringdon or Old Street. Tickets: From £35 (discount for groups of six). On now until 3 August 2018. For booking, visit the Somnai website.
For a review of Dotdotdot’s 2019/2020 production of Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds, click here.
One of the headline shows at this year’s Vault Festival is Neverland, an immersive theatre musical experience. Following its successful debut in Sheffield last year, the production has an eight-week run at the atmospheric tunnels below Waterloo station. The show is from The Guild of Misrule, the company behind the hit Great Gatsby Musical from last year’s festival. Arriving at The Vaults from the Leake Street tunnel, you follow the neon lights to reach Neverland at the end. As with many immersive theatre productions, you need to let down your guard and embrace the madness, preparing to take on a character or revert to childhood. For Neverland, be prepared to do both.
Upon entering, audience members are greeted by some of the Lost Boys and the Llewelyn Davies family, who quiz you with childlike wonder with innocent questions and Edwardian references. My friend, who works online, completely confused Michael Llewelyn Davies (Casey Jay Andrews) by trying to explain the internet and Google. The premise is the story of author JM Barrie’s (Dominic Allen) relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family, who inspired the characters of Peter Pan. There are many elements of the Pan storyline interwoven with how Barrie came up with the plot as we jump from Edwardian Kensington to Neverland to WWI. Read the rest of this entry
Arriving for Beauty and the Feast at The Vaults underneath Waterloo station, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. The show had been billed as a pantomime and dinner experience, which gave a hint of things to come. I’ve been to The Vaults quite a few times and love the venue for its versatility. We entered from the Leake Street tunnel entrance and the fairy tale vibe started immediately as we walked through the ‘magic mirror’ to the bar area. The bar was like a theatre set, with a melange of vintage furniture, old theatre seating, a disco ball, neon signs and drapes. We were one of the early arrivals so grabbed a suitably fantastically named cocktail to set the tone for the evening. As the bar got busier, a few characters mingled with the audience, breaking the ‘fourth wall’ as we enjoyed a chat with Fairy Liquid, the compere of the evening.
With everyone suitably loosened up with a couple of drinks, Fairy Liquid set up the evening’s agenda, with the panto itself loosely based on Beauty And The Beast. It isn’t long before the ‘Beauty’, aka Belle, arrives, in full Georgian drag splendour. Moving on to the dining room, the set design is amazing and really transports us to an 18th century French château with drapes and chandeliers. It’s a buffet, supper club setting so be prepared to make new acquaintances over your meal. The feast itself is very fairy tale like, featuring roast pumpkins, cauliflower cheese, plump sausages and blue cheesecake, followed by a ginger jelly and coconut ice cream dessert served in a tea cups [no chipped china ;-)] with mushroom-shaped meringues.
In between courses, we were treated to interludes of performance, with Belle and the Beast avoiding each other like the plague to the chagrin of Fairy Liquid, who is intent on getting them together with the encouragement of the audience. The climax of the feast gives us the happy ending we expect with the night getting suitably raucous with pop anthems, dancing on the table and some striptease. By this point, the audience were suitably tipsy and had really embraced the camp and spectacle of the event. With the cheesy soundtrack and constant flow of alcohol, it’s no surprise the evening ends on rather higher spirits than you would expect from a typical theatre experience. If you like immersive experiences with a high dose of booze, music and fabulousness, then check out Beauty and the Feast while it’s still on.
- Beauty And The Feast is on from 6 October 2017 – 4 January 2018 at The Vaults (entrance via Leake Street tunnel), Launcelot Street, Waterloo, SE1 7AD. Nearest station: Waterloo. Shows run from Tues-Sun. Door open 6.30pm, Show starts 7.30pm. Age 16+. Tickets start from £35 (includes dinner, dessert and DJs). For booking, visit The Vaults website.
If you’re a fan of vintage or would love to time-travel, this new immersive experience could be right up your street. This December, revellers will have the chance to journey back to World War II with live music, adventures, cocktails and more.
‘Home Front: Immersive Time Travel’ will explore the untold stories from the 1940s, from the often ignored perspective of women, homosexuals and colonial soldiers. Upon arrival, guests will be asked a question and their answer can bring them in nine different directions. Follow your own story as you fight to get out of escape rooms, enjoy intimate performances and are forced to make a decision about your character’s future. Once your journey is completed, you’ll find out who your character was and their decision. The characters are based on real-life people, including a famous fighter pilot who lived openly as a homosexual, an Indian princess-turned-spy and other less well known London figures.
Time travellers will also be entertained with a live swing band and drinks from five separately themed bars. Guests’ entrance time will be staggered, with a range of ticket packages on sale.
- Home Front: Immersive Time Travel takes place on 2 December 2017 at a secret east London location. 5.15pm-10.30pm. Tickets start from £25. For booking, visit DesignMyNight.
For the latest what’s on in London guide, click here.
Goosebumps Alive: Discover what lurks beneath at The Vaults below Waterloo in an immersive spooky experience
It’s one of the most popular book series of all time, having spooked hundreds of millions of readers around the world. And now fans of the ’90s hit books Goosebumps can experience some of the scary tales coming to life in a new immersive, theatrical experience.
Lurking deep in the abandoned railway tunnels beneath Waterloo station will be scenes from some of American author R.L. Stine’s iconic stories, such as Stay Out Of The Basement, Night Of The Living Dummy and Say Cheese And Die! Audience members young and old will be taken on a journey testing their mettle as they venture from room to room. Among the experiences guests can expect will be being buried alive, witnessing a flock of birds crash into a window or being grappled by monsters!
The new production, which opens for previews on 6 April, will be split into two immersive experiences – Goosebumps Kids (for children aged 5-11) and Goosebumps Alive (Adults, but suitable for over 12s). Directed by Tom Salamon, the experience will also feature original artwork from original Goosebumps books illustrator Tim Jacobus and set design by Samuel Wyer (from last year’s Vaults production Alice’s Adventures Underground). The Tiger Lillies band will also be performing live intermittently during the run.
Kieron Vanstone, Director at The Vaults said: ‘I’ve wanted to take Goosebumps to the stage for years but had to make sure I could do justice to R.L. Stine’s trademark combination of horror and humour. Immersive events have become the lifeblood of London culture, from Punchdrunk to Secret Cinema, and Goosebumps is perfectly suited to the genre – these stories were made to be experienced up close, with every shiver, sound and unsettling sight! I’ve been a lifelong fan of Goosebumps – who could forget Night of the Living Dummy? – and am thrilled to be bringing these shows to London this year, along with some of the best creative talent around.’
- Goosebumps Alive is on from 14 April until 4 September 2016 (previews start 6 April), while Goosebumps Kids runs from 14 May until 4 September (Every weekend and Tues-Sunday during school holidays only). Tickets: Adults start from £32.50, Children from £15 (plus booking fees). The adult show lasts 90 minutes with entry times from Tues-Fri: 7-9.30pm, Sat 1.30-9.30pm and Sun 1.30-7.30pm. Kids show lasts 50 minutes with entry times from Sat-Sun 11am-12.30pm and school holidays Tues-Sun 11am-12.30pm.
- The Vaults, Launcelot Street (off Lower Marsh), Waterloo, SE1 7AD. Nearest station: Waterloo. For more information and booking, visit Goosebumps Alive website.