For King and Country (Keep Calm and Carry On), Colab Factory
This review was edited on 6 March 2018 to reflect the post-production name change
Over the years I’ve done a lot of immersive theatre. As a frustrated actress it fulfils many of those lifelong ambitions to be a part of the drama. I’ve been romanced, shocked, scared and mystified all in the name of theatre.
I’ve never been to an immersive production that brings the audience into the drama quite as much as For King and Country, previously known as Keep Calm and Carry On. From the moment I was elected Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Prime Minister in the wartime coalition government, I knew this was going to be the drama for me.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, as it is so driven by audience decisions that it’s vital that you don’t know too much before you go. Remember, loose lips sink ships. But the set up is an alternate 1940 where the Germans have invaded the South Coast, Edward VIII is still on the throne and things are looking grim for poor old Blightly. A collection of MPs, Peers and their partners are assigned as a ‘designated survivor’ Parliament and taken to a basement in South London. Very quickly they are thrown into making decisions that will affect the fate of the nation. Will you make the right choices, elect the right leaders, write the right speeches? Can you keep calm and carry on?
The atmosphere is as tense as anything I have known in immersive theatre. The play take between 2-3 hours depending on the choices the group makes. It’s completely led by those choices made through discussion, debate and democracy. There are many different ways this play could go and you could probably return every night to find different twists and turns.
The cast is superb. They have to both follow the path the audience gives them and play their roles accordingly. Given that, you might expect a certain amount of stiltedness and longing to return to safely scripted areas, but I found none of that. Their enthusiasm for the exploration of the piece was as honed as the audience’s.
The venue is also excellent. The low ceilings aid the bunker mentality and the authenticity of the props was confirmed to me by my companion for the evening who turned out to be a huge WW2 buff. Despite his quite intense questioning, the cast were completely on top of their brief and the set matched it perfectly.
While this show has finished its current run, I am very confident it will return. It’s a timeless piece that will always have something to teach us about the pressures of the war. If and when it does return, don’t keep calm until you’ve got tickets.