Review: Death of the King at CoLab Factory
Written for Everything Theatre
I’ll happily admit that I put my name down for Death of the King purely on the basis of its summary: ‘an immersive punk murder mystery’. It’s an unlikely combination for sure, but in the hands of immersive theatre company ImmerCity, it does not disappoint.
Let’s start with the punk bit: it’s 1983, and six squatters live together in an old factory building littered with Sex Pistols posters and half empty bottles of booze. Then, one of them dies. Now for the murder mystery: we jump forward in time to the present day and the discovery of the body. Of the original six flat mates, four are now dead and one is missing, which means the suspicion falls on Jack Glovers as the last man standing. Glovers, by now an aging rock star, is desperate to clear his name and that’s where we, the audience, come in. Crossing between the world of the living upstairs, where Jack is trying to tie loose ends together, and the basement where Jack’s associate ghost whisperer Magpie has brought back the spirits of the past, it’s up to the audience to figure out what exactly happened on that fateful night nearly 35 years ago.
Let me get this clear right away: if you’re looking for a gentle introduction to immersive theatre, the kind of show where you can just dip in your toes, this is not it. I’ve immersed myself in more than a few productions, and they rarely required this level of participation. (That’s not including the time I almost got strangled in a Punchdrunk show, although arguably that did not require much involvement on my part.) In order to solve the case, you have to talk to the characters and ask them questions. There’s also time to go into people’s rooms and snoop through their belongings, but they will call you out if they see you do it. Clearly, when the people at ImmerCity say ‘immersive’, they do really mean it.
The cast are very good, always staying in character even if they have to give you an occasional nudge in the right direction. I was also impressed by their ability to react to my team’s questions and improvise away, while still keeping the facts of who was where and doing what straight. There was the occasional slip of the tongue, but the bigger drawback was actually how consistently they stayed in character; with all of our housemates having consumed a lot of alcohol, a lot of drugs or a lot of both, the slurring was a bit too convincing at times.
Where this show really stands out from other immersive performances I’ve seen, is how smoothly the unsexy bits (AKA the logistics) went. By putting people in groups and spreading them out across the space, getting around was easy enough and it seemed that everyone was able to conduct their investigation largely unhindered by other teams, despite the venue not being that big. Magpie acts as a facilitator throughout the evening, taking groups up to see Jack for more information, or encouraging them to talk to a different character. It works brilliantly: you never have to wait long, and the experience as a whole feels almost tailor-made to each individual group.
Death of the King is a fantastic show, and an enjoyably different night out with a couple of friends. But pick your team wisely: this one’s not for the faint-hearted.
Death of the King is playing at CoLab Factory until 4 June 2017