As Funicular Production’s Murder Express leaves Pedley Street Station, east London, their latest immersive experience, Journey to the Underworld, is just pulling into the platform. After being ushered in by the animated bellboy, Gordy, you will set sights on the train that will take you to hell and back. Although stationary, it impressively dominates the room and the rest of the night.
The train will be moving shortly – well, it will feel like it is anyway. Its windows are digital screens that display rapidly moving scenery, giving you the familiar sensation of motion. Like possessed dimmer switch lights, at key moments the screens will change their displays to reflect the mood of the narrative.
While waiting for the first course of the menu, designed by Louisa Ellis (2017 Masterchef: The Professionals finalist), the protagonist of the journey, Claude, will regale you with his tales of woes. Shackled for a thousand years or so, Claude is adamant that the diners of the carriage can help free him from his bounds and reunite him with his long lost love, Sabine.
To take your mind off his predicament you will be served four courses on your way to the underworld. The food looks great, and, for the most part, tastes great too. The butternut squash hors d’œuvre should be added to late train compensation schemes up and down the country. Between these courses, Claude will increasingly interact with his captive audience.
One moment he will be cautioning passengers with quotes from Dante’s Inferno and the next channelling Roosevelt to advise them that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Even when audience members refuse to play along, Claude and Gordy will improvise witty solutions to keep the show on track.
These interactions become the most entertaining part of the whole experience while the horror narrative steadily takes more of a backseat. There are some definite moments of suspense though, but the dining format more often than not limits their impact. Volunteers’ valiant efforts to prevent anyone or anything from entering the carriage, for example, were undermined by the continuous to and fro of waiters.
If you have come for a well crafted, terrifying story about going to hell and back – best grab a drink from the conspicuous waiters and alight at the next stop. If, however, you want a night of genuinely hilarious moments, impressive food, and some very clever set pieces, you may have found just the ticket.
Journey to the Underworld is on until 7 November. Tickets from £53 (includes the meal)