Viewer beware… You’re in for a scare…
That’s what I’m told as I load up the print-at-home ticket Saturday morning. I must admit, there was no way I could be scared of this. Sure, A Night at Terror Tower and Escape From the Carnival of Horrors terrified me as a kid, but 20 years on I had learned that the monsters we believe in are all in our head: these monsters were all trapped in the magnificent R. L. Stine’s.
So, I arrive in London with 20 minutes to find the notoriously difficult to find The Vaults under Waterloo. I use Google Maps to try and find my way, but they led me to this strange hand car wash that was extremely busy for 20:00. I ask someone where it is and they point me through the car wash, after eyeing up what I’m wearing and asking if I’m here for “the meet”.
I can understand why I was asked. I was in my cyberpunk gear: top and trousers from Cyberdog, a hoodie from Resistanz and leather jacket over the top, and my beautiful Demonia’s that look like biker boots, only with spikes and bullets attached.
It was hardly a surprise that they ask me. The more surprising bit was I said “yeah,” automatically, “but I need to find The Vaults first”, which kinda made me feel like a character from Borderlands for a brief moment. The car wash attendant pointed me down the car wash and said “that way” so I tentatively walked backwards through it (avoiding getting wet!) past a load of high end, souped up cars with windows tinted darker than whats legal and neon strips beneath them. It was mad!
I exited the car wash and the cars continued to queue, one of them rigged up to a sound system that was blasting out hip hop and everyone was standing around admiring each others rides – it was genuinely like walking onto the set of The Fast and the Furious! I kept my head down as to not draw attention to myself (the clothes were already doing enough for me) and I see a family walk into the arches, so I tactfully follow them.
A little down the road, past a load of people playing football with a tennis ball, skateboarding, biking, and graffiti-ing (is that even a word?) I see a lone sign labeled “The Vaults” with an arrow pointing to the entrance. There was a guy sat outside playing with a smoke machine and a green spotlight they had obviously planned on using, but the smoke machine wasn’t working. A shame – I hoped this wasn’t a precursor to how the event would run.
I flash the person my ticket and they hand me a card with a silhouette of a crow on a purple background, then point me into the experience.
I enter the venue and take a look around. We’re in a bar, lit by a mixture of flickering lightbulbs and LED strips splashing a camp yet slightly unnerving series of greens, reds and ultraviolet light across the walls. The bar serves themed food (Say Cheese and Die Toastie) and drinks (Monster Slime), as well as some adverts about the creators of the masks within the show. I order myself a coke and wander around, looking at the masks while listening to an array of head-nodding rock, trip hop and pop – anything from The Kooks to The Gorillaz was played in the 20 minutes I was in there.
Soon enough, we’re moved to another room. We flash our tickets and the announcer smiles creepily at us, counting us audibly as we go through whilst warning us that any photography beyond this point will get us escorted off premises. It’s another, more themed bar: the famous Goosebumps drips adorn 3 of the 4 walls as well as the bar, while green LED lights shine down the walls behind them, giving off the famous Goosebumps vibe. The fourth wall is a mural to one of the purple goo characters from the books that I can’t quite remember the name of. It stands maybe 10ft high and 20ft wide – it was a real sight to behold, and simply added more fuel to my excitement.
I wander in and make my way over to the corner. I’m doing this alone (as I like to do sometimes – how people react in these kinds of events can really show their true character and I quite like watching this transformation), so I take a seat at a table on my own and continue drinking my coke. I notice, as I scan the room, that there were placards hanging from the lighting rig, each one lit up by a lone spotlight from the other side of the room, each showing a symbol from the card. I look at the table and noticed the symbol on the table too – it was then I read this creepy message on the back of my ticket, and realised that I had inadvertently done what I was expected to do.
The lighting suddenly changed, and the experience began. I’ll not go into too much detail and will avoid any mentions of scares because where’s the fun in knowing what to expect, right?
The first scene begins with everyone in the room. Someone in the audience goes crazy and begins telling his story. Using some incredible surround sound and story telling, he made us all live through what he was going through. The room goes dark, and television screens flicker to life around the room, playing the infamous TV show introduction.
Silent, hooded characters then came to collect each of the four groups one by one. We all get the gist of what they want, and in we go.
This first bit was very very clever and almost executed perfectly. All four groups were split up and taken to different rooms within the vaults, the corridors between each room painted in an off-kilter manner that slowly change to match the story you’re about to be told.
There were 4 in total stories themselves were about 10 minutes long, and were basically a condensed version/adaptation of one of the many books; most well known, but a few that were completely new that went down a similar vein of the Goosebumps stories – each had a mixture of absolutely fantastic storytelling with no more than three characters who all made it incredibly easy to get sucked into the story (and all had fantastic improv skills – kudos to the Cuckoo Clock guy!), and some jumpscares that even I didn’t predict – one of them even got me to yelp and jump back in surprise!
Between these stories, we got put in what could only be described as a holding pen. It was dark and cramped, and there was no obvious way out – it was impossible to turn everyone back too, as we had just descended a good 7 feet: the longer we waited, the more the nerves started to kick in. I was fortunately at the front so knew what was going on, but the guys at the back had no idea, and started to panic more (even though we told them there was no way forward).
All four groups are reintroduced after these five experiences for a handful more experiences, a few of which continued on the story from the very beginning, but all of which were very creepy and interactive at the same time: there was a lot of nervous laughter as we, the audience, became the actors in one of the scenes. In another we’re forced to watch from a number of different angles, which I had never experienced in immersive theatre before. No matter what the scene was, the actors were absolutely amazing and were easy to believe, though one of the scenes made it feel like we were in this strange 1950s pantomime (though that didn’t detract from the experience at all).
The last scene is absolutely amazing. The masks, the props, the sounds, the lighting, the story were all on point, and not even I predicted how it’d end! As I said earlier, I’m not going to go into any more detail than that as I don’t want to spoil it for you.
What did I think of it? I honestly had an absolute blast. The actors all did an absolutely fantastic job and really made the characters we were interacting with believable, especially in the heat they were dealing with and never broke character (check your coats in at the cloakroom – it gets extremely hot in those vaults!).
The way it works is absolutely incredible too – I won’t give the game away, but the actors in each scene control their entire environment. They’ve really pushed the way that theatre, especially immersive theatre, works!
The stories that were told were Goosebumps to a T. It was easy to tell which story the scene was from (though remembering the name of the book was impossible after 20 years) and it had the camp yet creepy atmosphere all the way through, even between the scenes.
Goosebumps Alive is billed as a 16+ event on the website, but I feel that 14 year olds that can handle a good quick jump scare or two would absolutely love the show – just make sure that they are ready for it before going, as it’s not nice for the child or the rest of the group to be dragged through something they don’t like. Once you leave, you’re out for good.
I will definitely be on the look out for more tickets to this show, and I’ll definitely be dragging some friends along too!