Review by Daz Gale
Immersive theatre is growing in and around London with a whole variety of experiences all in various styles (and to be honest, quality). As Bonfire night approached, I remembered a new one on The Gunpowder Plot had launched this year so I made a plot to see it as close to Bonfire Night as I could – but was the whole thing explosive or a damp squib?
If you have been living under a rock for the past 400 years, the Gunpowder Plot was a failed assassination attempt against King James I by a group aiming to restore the Catholic monarchy to England. Taking place in 1605, the events by Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters have become the stuff of legend and are the reason we now celebrate Bonfire Night every November 5th.
This immersive experience recounts the events leading up to November 5th 1605 as we join performers playing a mix of real people and other fictionalised people based on others. Journeying through multiple levels, the small groups at each session are key in to the progression of these events as they are asked to make a decision, take a side and ultimately determine whether Guy Fawkes was a hero or a villain.
Located in the Tower Vaults at the legendary Tower of London, the historic setting lends itself beautifully to this trek through the past with the real location key to the events as they unfold. This adds an extra level of authenticity and believability to the proceedings, allowing visitors the escapism needed to achieve total immersion. In this respect, it does this better than other immersive experiences I have been to. Aside from a couple of modern pieces of health and safety equipment (which is obviously a necessity), everything is quite faithful to the era of which it is set.
While we all know the story, recreating it in a theatrical and immersive way is no mean feat. The task of bringing this story to life falls to Danny Robins, whose play 2:22: A Ghost Story has won rave reviews, awards and played at FOUR West End theatres so far. Taking influence from excerpts of real dialogue that have been historically recorded, Danny has crafted a fantastic take on the action which effortlessly has you buying into the adventure and creating a genuine sense of danger.
Actors in immersive shows such as this may not always get the appreciation they deserve. As well as performing the show in question, they have to be able to interact with the guests for each session and deal with whatever may arise – in my group, it was an incredibly disruptive guest who decided she deserved more time in the spotlight than the performers themselves. Even when this lessened the atmosphere, their professionalism and ability to react and respond accordingly was admirable and a testament to how brilliant this talented group of performers really are.
The Gunpowder Plot mixes both live action and digital in a phenomenal multisensory experience. At three occasions throughout the adventure, we are asked to put our VR headsets on. As impressive as the virtual reality is (my advice is to not look in one place and do a full 360 each time to see all the many details) it’s the added elements that turn the moments into more of a rollercoaster ride than you might have expected. These moments were undoubtedly the highlight of the whole experience and had me longing for more. Tom Felton takes on the mantle of Guy Fawkes for the virtual reality portion of the experience (No, he is not actually there sadly – although one real life performer emulating him is masked so you never know).
Produced by Layered Reality who are also responsible for the immersive War Of The Worlds experience, this is a highly detailed and intricate experience where every element has been well thought out. As well as faithful visuals, sounds blasting out (the screams will haunt me forever) and even smells pumping through the building create a real feast for the senses. The way the story plays out mixing live action and virtual reaction creates a varied and consistently exciting experience, with one moment where the group is split into their own confined spaces providing genuinely terrifying.
My only complaint is it felt all too short, coming in at 1 hour 40 minutes including an interval. While they cram in a lot and manage to tell the whole story up to its resolution in that time, I was left longing for more – though perhaps that is a testament to the brilliance of this production? The whole thing was completely gripping though – when the action really ramped up towards the shows climax, there were fireworks!
There is more to do at this experience than the production itself with a bar and restaurant available for before and after the experience. A recreation of a 1600s pub for the interval and, of course, the obligatory gift shop creates an overall fantastic experience that starts the moment you walk in the door of the Tower vaults.
When it comes to excitement, The Gunpowder Plot is as good as it gets. Fast-paced, exhilarating and incredibly well thought it, this may well be the best immersive show I have been to thus far. An unrivalled example of what can be achieved when you get the balance of technology and live action right, everything about this experience has been brilliantly executed. This is one evening I will remember remember for a long time.
The Gunpowder Plot Immersive Experience is currently booking until March 31st 2023.
Standard and VIP tickets available from https://gunpowderimmersive.com
Photos by Mark Dawson