Photo by: UnCorked Theatre Photo by: UnCorked Theatre

Review: How to Solve a Problem Like Murder at Paradise by Way of Kensal Green

Written for Everything Theatre

Two things in life I love very much are immersive theatre and a good murder mystery. So How to Solve a Problem Like Murder, advertised as ‘Cluedo meets the seven deadly sins’, seemed to be made for me. I’m not, however, a massive fan of the imperious way in which some immersive theatre companies treat their audience members (looking at you, Punchdrunk). That’s why I got a bit worried when, shortly after arrival, my plus one and I were handed masks, along with the instruction that we had to wear them at all times. Oh, and we weren’t allowed to talk either. It was all very Drowned Man.

Fortunately, the show itself turned out to be a very spectator-friendly affair. It’s less kind to its characters; as the title suggests, the evening’s task is to solve a murder. The catch is that the audience members do not only have to decide on the identity of the killer, but also on that of the corpse-to-be. The potential murderers-victims are the owner and the employees of Paradise, the fictional dance venue/jazz bar where the show is set, and who naturally all have their own dirty little secrets. What these secrets are – and whether they’re relevant in solving the upcoming murder – the spectators find out by following the various characters around the venue, eavesdropping on their conversations and riffling through the occasional purse.

The show does suffer from the obvious problems immersive pieces like these often have. Following the actors from room to room, while also navigating around other audience members following someone else, sometimes takes up so much time that, by the time you find your character again, they’re already off to do something else. At other times, there’s simply not enough space for everyone to stand around an actor and see or hear what they’re doing. However, UnCorked Theatre handle these challenges better than a lot of other companies I’ve seen, and the overall experience is as smooth as can reasonably be expected of a piece like this.

A unique aspect of the show is the dance routines that the cast frequently perform as they ‘rehearse’ for that evening’s performance. It makes the show perhaps a bit too entertaining, because the dancing is so good I frequently found myself watching the performances rather than following the other actors to find more clues. It also combines very well with the atmosphere of the real-life Paradise bar where the show takes place. The old paintings on the walls, the red neon cross behind the bar and the general faux-shabbiness of the place make you feel like you’ve gone down the rabbit hole and wound up in an adults-only yet classy version of Wonderland. It’s slightly at odds with the film noir tone the company has, not entirely successfully, gone for. Nevertheless it’s a beautiful venue that’s undoubtedly also worth a visit when it’s not posing as a crime scene.

Attention to detail is one of the great successes of this production. It shows in the little clues tucked away here and there in the venue, in the careful way the characters’ secrets are connected and revealed, and in the acting that holds up well under extremely close scrutiny. You have to admire the cast for their professionalism, because it can’t be easy to stay in character when you have five people trying to read a text over your shoulder. And as for the big reveal at the end… Ah well, I don’t want to spoil anything. You’ll just have to go and see it for yourself.

How to Solve a Problem Like Murder is playing at Paradise by Way of Kensal Green until 28 April 2016