Immersive experiences are getting increasingly common and our expectations of immersive theatre as audiences is rising as companies like Secret Cinema and PunchDrunk continue to take the experience to another level, increasing the interaction, the dressing up and all the factors that make the audience feel like they are part of the production every night.
Immercity’s The Silhouette in the Smoke takes the interactivity even further. Not only do you get to question the actors but along with your fellow audience members work together to solve the crime. The production starts with a lovely Victorian High Tea, with a selection of sandwiches, cake and scones with your choice of tea or coffee. Anyone who knows me will know that this production had me at nice food but we aren’t just here for a catch-up Jackdaw (Ben Hale), supernatural specialist, needs our help. A renovation of the Museum has lead to a discovery of small boots and workmen have heard cries of a small child. We find ourselves in 1871 as you split from your main group and follow a chosen character. I chose to follow Sarah Hughes (Bethan Leyshon) who finds herself as companion to Matilda Robinson (Debbie Bird) who as board of Guardians wants to ensure Billy Ward, an eight-year-old apprentice is being taken care of by the owners-Matthew and Eleanor Shaw (Edmund Attril and Christie Peto), Engineer Robert Morgan (Gareth Turkington) and his other apprentice Harry Taylor (Adam Hughes).
The opportunity to see one character’s point of view can give you an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to solving the mystery and I nearly found myself losing my chosen character as a conversation between Robert and Eleanor caught my interest. Once the first half has finished you and your group reconvene to interrogate the characters. Who is responsible for the death of Billy Ward?
What struck me about this production was the quality of the source production. I’ve never considered when watching immersive is whether this is simply a good story. The success of The Great Gatsby immersive production in London proves that immersive isn’t just about the experience but the content. David Knight’s script would work just as well in a traditional space and it felt like a cross between The Woman in Black and An Inspector Calls in terms of atmosphere. The immersive experience gives the production an extra gravitas-the first half is full of great performances and intrigue (What scandal? How did these people end up here? How does he know her etc) and it is up to the audience to solve their curiosity. A traditional play would give us answers, in this characters will lie, gossip and do whatever they can to ensure you don’t suspect them.
Debbie Bird and Christie Shaw provided us with more questions than answers during our questioning and seemingly had the power to change fully ingrained theories to nothing. All the cast members had formed solid back stories to weird and wonderful questions audiences might ask. The production saw characters develop. Gareth Turkington’s Morgan went from a short-tempered engineer to a man dealing with his emotions and guilt as audiences questioned his role in the boy’s death and Leyshon’s Hughes’ character was the most intriguing-she had a lot of secrets and a lot of connections and ultimately my sympathies lied with a woman who was just trying to do her best. Attrill’s Shaw provided comic relief as the posh drunk who seemed to have no idea what was going on in his own factory.
The museum space isn’t accessible and most of the production takes place in the dark, with only lanterns providing guidance and having all the features you would expect from a Victorian building (plus a few steam machines thrown in) but the production has embraced the site-specific features, which added authenticity the production rather than hindered. As the cast move from scene to scene they ensure that everyone is safe (particular shout out to Rosanna Mallinson whose Magpie ensured no audiences fell down any holes or stairs)
The production has now finished but keep an eye on the Immercity website for any future productions http://www.immer-city.com/wp/