Being a regular Edinburgh Fringe go-er, I’m used to being plucked from the crowd for a little interaction. Going to the theatre or a show as a spectator is a fantastic experience, but, you have to admit, it’s definitely more memorable if you’re involved in the action! I’ve been scouting London for some of the best immersive theatre experiences and here’s what I found…
There’s been some quite prolific immersive productions in recent years – such as the ‘Back to the Future’ event by Secret Cinema and ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’ at The Vaults, under Waterloo Station. I was invited to try a couple of shows myself, and make up my own mind. I went to see ‘Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience‘ and ‘The Wedding Reception‘, both having toured the UK’s Fringe festivals before setting up a more permanent shop, predominantly in London.
We all remember the 1975 TV sitcom which brought us Basil, Sybil, Polly and Manuel so, for one night only, I went to experience ‘Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience’ at the Amba Hotel, Charing Cross. The hotel is absolutely stunning inside, with views into the train station, and our dining room was no exception – with huge chandeliers and portraits on the walls. We grabbed a drink in ‘Basil’s Bar’ before meeting our three hosts for the night – a scarily realistic shrill Basil, no nonsense Sybil and loveable Manuel. As Basil sent us into the dining room group by group with his dry sarcasm, we got a flavour for how the night was going to progress!
Over a three course dinner (which was delicious I might add) we were treated to a mixture of the original stories from the show, with a bit more audience interaction thrown in! I was unlucky enough to be at the centre of one prank (I won’t ruin the story by divulging more!) but the three characters worked the audience perfectly, with lots of improv action thrown in! The actors were on point with their expressions, mannerisms and personalities, without tittering on the border of slapstick. From ‘Basil the rat’, to the horse race bet, to the Germans, we had quite a treat of a show and left dinner still in stitches!
Next, I decided to take another step back in time – but only to 2011 this time! I’m sure I wasn’t the only one glued to the screen for the Royal Wedding several years back (nor the only one to cry drunkenly later on in the night at the prospect of never being a princess…). The second immersive theatre show was ‘The Wedding Reception’, fresh from the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe this year.
The show is about a couple, Kate and Will, who are sick of being compared to the royal couple and decide to elope. This is the reception party, on their return. The evening starts in the bar, where the party planner is going frantic, the bride’s parents are causing chaos and there’s a few organisational hiccups… We were then ushered into the dining area where, over a three course dinner we learn about our characters, their families, their relationships – with a huge dollop of hilarious audience interaction thrown in.
The highlight for me were the bride’s parents (in my pic below!), with brilliant northern accents and bluntness, and the best man who, at one point, stripped down to his pants and ran out into the streets of Covent Garden, chased by the bride – much to passersby’s confusion! It helped that we had a really chatty group of people on our table, which made the storyline come together in a funny way in the end! Overall, we had a really fun night and, thank goodness, the happy couple haven’t filed for divorce yet!
The two shows were completely different but the immersive theatre experience is a great idea. I, for one, feel much more comfortable in this setting and, if you’re expecting to be picked on, you can make of it what you like, and be as involved as you want to be! Everyone seemed up for a laugh in these shows and most of the funniest bits were what the audience made of the interactive opportunities they were given. I loved both shows, with Fawlty Towers probably being my favourite for its relevance to my childhood (!), but I’m definitely sold on the idea, and I’m looking forward to what else I can find in London and at the Fringe in this style!