09/03/2018 – DotDot.london: Somnai

I’ve never been happy with myself – I always knew I had the ability to do more, see more, be more. OK, that’s a lie: I’m very happy with myself and strive to push myself as much as possible; however adverts have been popping up on Facebook and around London advertising this brand new service that’ll help me uncover my true potential by accessing my subconscious at will, with only acute death as a potential side effect. What could go wrong, right? … right?

 

With absolutely no information available bar a website selling tickets and a few posters with double edged slogans such as “sleep with us”, I very much read into this as being an intense horror experience where things go horribly wrong and you end up in a nightmare landscape, tormented by nameless entities that want nothing more than to cause suffering due to the imagery and mystery surrounding the event: instead what I found was quite the opposite.

 

Somnai is, at the core of it, an immersive theatrical experience that mixes live action, virtual reality, film, and scents and sound in an attempt to completely immerse you in what can only be described as a cyberpunk sci-fi movie with a slight Black Mirror undertone, just without the dystopia that’s usually prescribed to the genre, and it does it exquisitely once you accept that you need to don virtual reality devices and may end up in waiting rooms due to the nature of the show; having said that, as soon as we entered each scene I was very much back in and immersed in the world once more.

 

From the moment I handed my belongings over to the moment I left the building, I was in awe at what I experienced during my hour-ish long show, from the story and how it played out through to the incredulous amount of technologies used – it’s rarely a good idea to rely heavily on technology given how temperamental it can be, but the team at Somnai are taking that risk and, when the technologies work, it is an absolutely beautiful  and overwhelming experience.

 

What are you waiting for? Come and #SleepWithUs.

Sweet dreams.

09/03/2018 – DotDot.london: Somnai

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum

Located in the tunnels beneath Waterloo train station in central London, The Vault Festival puts on a series of shows and immersive experiences that spread far and wide across all mediums and genres; this year, one stood out in particular: The Pendulum by The Tom Sawyer Effect. Billed as “a hyper reality horror experience blending virtual reality with immersive theatre”, there was no way I could turn this down – even if I am a sceptic of virtual reality.

It’s time for me to experience The Pendulum. I arrive in the tunnels and am greeted by the usual hustle and bustle of the underpass: a mix of people hanging about outside The Vault itself, street jugglers, professional photographers, and graffiti artists litter the tunnel, creating create this electricity that buzzes through the air but always seemed to be dampened as if it’s only for the select few in the area.

An usher arrives and asks if I’m here for The Pendulum – “Yes” – “Follow me”. We walk down the tunnel and away from the main hub of the festival in complete silence despite my best attempts at striking up a conversation, which unsettled me a bit. We approach a completely unassuming door right at the end of the tunnel and I’m ushered into the blackness, where someone is sat at a table with a sizeable waiver and a pen. I’m asked to read the waiver and backstory and sign on the line, and I do. I’m then handed a red boiler suit and am instructed to put it on and take a seat on the chair off to the side. The usher approaches and covers my head with a cloth, and the experience begins.

What happens over the course of the next 20 minutes is difficult to put into words, but there’s no hyperbole in synopsis: from the moment I was guided from my seat into the 5 metre by 5 metre room where the one-on-one experience is held, I was completely immersed in their universe. Sure I didn’t think that I was this super hacker the interrogator was talking about, but that’s not the point: the actor had me eating out of the palm of his hand for the entire show; not only that, but the way in which the virtual reality was used wasn’t jarring at all as it has been in other attractions – it had a legitimate reason for being used.

Despite me erring on the side of caution with regards to virtual reality (never work with computers, animals or kids in show biz!) and having unfortunately experienced tech failures during haunts that rely heavily on it, I was very much expecting it to be dreadful: I was proven wrong, and man am I happy about that! I don’t want to go into too much detail as there’s a lot that you need to experience for yourself, but the most bizarre and jarring (in a positive manner) thing was that the room went from being 5 metre square to a tunnel that looks about 10 metres deep and 50 metres wide.

 

The Pendulum is a truly impressive piece of theatre that is quick to immerse you in its universe and make you question what you perceive as reality, from the story through to the actors to the technology used, it is a real pleasure to see and experience something of this calibre – well done to absolutely everyone involved!

08/03/2018 – The Tom Sawyer Effect: The Pendulum

16/01/2018 – Take Me Home: Horror Within

Walking up the stairs toward Take Me Home’s Horror Within, I had no idea what to expect: I’ve done haunts with the tiniest possible floor space possible that have really packed a punch and left a mark over the last few years, however when I heard that there would be live actors inside the impossibly small room looming from the balcony above, I was curious as to see just how this would work.

We were ushered inside and told to take a seat at a table in this gloomy early-1900’s drawing room, smoke hanging still in the air to create a haze. As we’re all sat and made comfortable, we’re asked to turn off our phones and tuck our belongings in under our chair and we wait as atmospheric music washes through the room, trying to stir up a joke with each other which are followed by short-lived nervous chuckles as nobody had any idea what to expect, myself included: the lights went out and a music box dances its way through the darkness…

What happened over the course of the next hour is really hard to fully encapsulate in words: I could tell you every little detail, every line that was said, every glance over the shoulder, but that just wouldn’t carry the same weight that the atmosphere created by the Take Me Home team managed to create: I can’t speak for anyone else in this performance but I was very much eating out the palm of all the actors hands throughout the performance.

Given that this was the premiere performance, I was a little concerned as to how rough it was going to be as I had spoken to the producers they were entirely, and understandably, nervous themselves; however the actors took this all in their stride and rolled with whatever hiccup had happened, which lessened the impact of the issue entirely – something that definitely isn’t easy, especially when some of the pieces were narrative!

There are a few changes that I’d make that I thought might have a better impact which have already been passed onto the team but won’t be posted here as they’d give away elements of the show that are best left unknown: having said that, if the actors can see that the audience is really eating out of the palm of their hands, definitely draw out poignant sentences and embellish motions more. I very much look forward to returning to see the full show later this week!

The world within the four walls of Jacob’s drawing room is so beautiful and rich that it’s entirely easy to forget the outside world exists at all: the actors and effects blend beautifully together to create an atmospheric and haunting show that’ll stick in your mind for a very long time!

 


 

UPDATE: I’ve just returned from my second showing of Take Me Home: Horror Within and I walked out just as impressed as I did the first time! A lot has changed: entire scenes have gone, new effects have been introduced, and what worked in Tuesday’s show has been improved on since, and the actors have really settled into their characters which made their interactions much more believable: I was thrilled when I found out the show has been extended and I urge you to go, even if you’ve already experienced it!

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/takemehomeplay/

Tickets: https://www.thebroadwaybarking.com/sales/genres/drama/take-me-home–horror-within

26857095_2296906710620957_1705623219_n

16/01/2018 – Take Me Home: Horror Within

21/10/2017 – Chessington World of Adventures Howl’o’ween

After hearing about Chessington World of Adventures putting on a Halloween event, I was extremely curious as to what they’d do. When I added them to the huge lineup, I hadn’t had much exposure/experience/whatever with kids haunts (except a backstage tour of Spooks in the Straw), so thought it might be something a bit different, and I was glad I added it to the lineup after doing House of Monsters, Alton Towers’ very own kids haunt.

Unfortunately for myself, I only had a limited amount of time at Chessington as I had to make my way across London in order to catch the next leg of my journey, so I wasn’t able to experience Trick or Treat Wood; but from what I could hear and see when walking past it, it looked like great fun with some very enthusiastic actors to boot!

My first haunt at Chessington was Creepy Caves Unearthed, a haunt created with young teenagers in mind. I’ve no idea what young teenagers they did their market research on because I honestly could not believe how intense the haunt was! The storyline is well thought out and very captivating from the get go, with some amazing actors delivering the narrative (though I’m not sure why they had American accents, but you know, just a minor detail that has no negative impact on the attraction itself) and scenes and sets that compliment the story being told. The theatrics give way and all hell breaks loose as you’re sent through the creepy caves in order to survive as mutated humans come charging toward you from absolutely everywhere! The finale had a very nice twist as well, with some more scares as you’re chased out of the attraction!

Parents, please please PLEASE take note of the age restriction! Whilst Chessington is a family friendly attraction, Creepy Caves Unearthed does not fall into this category: it is honestly as intense as some of the haunts I’ve done aimed at adults, though it’s much shorter. When we were waiting for our timeslot, we were seeing kids coming out in tears! I was extremely impressed with the attraction, and really couldn’t find much fault with it – the time you do it doesn’t have any effect as you’re all indoors anyway, the actors really got into their roles and managed to make me jump a few times, and the sights and smells really popped and stood out, making Creepy Caves Unearthed a brilliant addition to the park!

 

After taking a bit of a breather to calm down, I moved onto Curse of the Lost Tomb, a story driven show that mixes theatre with a few scenes that mimic an escape room. All the actors inside are extremely captivating and really fit in with their scenes well, improvising lines and interacting with the audience beautifully as you make your way through. Whilst not rated as too scary by the theme park, it can be very tense at points as there’s quite a lot of flashing lights, an eerie atmosphere, and a finale that used some effects that I really wasn’t expecting! Great fun for the whole family, but as with Creepy Caves Unearthed, definitely take the age restriction into consideration as younger guests might not enjoy it.

 

Overall though, Chessington World of Adventures has put on a series of fun and brilliant shows and haunts, and plenty of roaming characters that will thrill you with their amazing moves! Well done to everyone involved!

 

21/10/2017 – Chessington World of Adventures Howl’o’ween

14/10/2017 – Faceless Ventures: Diary of a Deceased

A dead body. A diary with all but four pages ripped out. This is the fractured story of John Doe and his encounters with monsters and noises in the dark.

We descend the stairs to the morgue silently, as instructed. A nurse stands to greet us silently as a heavy atmosphere descends around us: in her hand is the Diary. In a melancholic and calm tone, she begins to explain how John Doe and his diary came into her care. She opens the diary to the first undamaged page and begins reading.

We are instantly transported back to John’s childhood, led by his former self. We hide in a den and play a game of Noughts and Crosses; a safe space, the child explains, from the things outside. We relive his night time routine, then it goes dark. Do you hear noises in the dark? We do. They get closer and closer. We escape.

Back in the morgue. We meet John’s love interest; they met in America where she was studying at the time. We enter a room with American flag and bunting, a shadow facing a huge American flag as The Last Post plays. She told us how she didn’t believe him when he told her about the noises, but that all changed. A speech begins to play, growing in volume; the American anthem joining the aural intrusion. Nightmarish creatures appear from the darkness, creeping around, tormenting us, disembodied by flashing lights that allowed them to move unnaturally. The shadow facing the flag leaves the room, and everything returns to normal. What is normal anyway?

We’re back in the morgue. We’re told to follow the voice as a hauntingly beautiful and overwhelming rendition of My Immortal wafts through the air. We follow the voice: in front of us, John sits, arms upturned to show his bloodied and slashed wrists: an unknown figure looms over him, singing his swansong, mourning. In death, his childhood and love are returned to his past: the only gift left to give is death, which was given to us.

Up the stairs and back to reality. Is this the end, or merely the beginning?

 

22528286_513645705636725_8982613136062561773_n

Diary of a Deceased has truly left me stuck for words: I know for a fact that what I experienced could never be transposed into words: it was intense, haunting, and utterly beautiful!

What sets this apart from other haunts/attractions is that it relies heavily on the narrative and the actors ability to set the atmosphere in each scene, which they all did perfectly! From the whimsical and lighthearted atmosphere when visiting his childhood and playing games through to the melancholy of his relationship, through to the soul crushing end of John Doe, it was impossible to not get sucked in!

The one tiny piece of criticism I have is the haunt ending – I loved what it was trying to portray, and it portayed it well; however, some more effects such as a wind machine and strobes would further push the idea.

Despite the one little teeny-tiny improvement I could think of (and that’s all it is), this production definitely set the bar high for future immersive theatre, as people were moved to tears in the 30 minutes the show lasted. I cannot wait to see where this goes, if it goes anywhere: as a singular story it is perfect, but as I somberly climbed the stairs leading away from the morgue, I was definitely craving more! Well done to everyone involved!

14/10/2017 – Faceless Ventures: Diary of a Deceased

30/09/2017 – The MacGuffin Project

Back in 1865 the great MacGuffin circus was the talk of the town. It’s owner decided that he would step out of the spotlight and let his son take his place; however, much to his father’s dismay and disgust, the son had no interest in running the circus, favouring inventing. Sure enough, the son created this incredible machine that monitored the entire circus: the machine became too powerful and overthrew its creator and completely destroyed the whole circus, leaving it to rot. 150 years later and intrepid adventurers are given the opportunity to step inside the abandoned circus to figure out what went wrong…

 

From the moment you step inside The MacGuffin Project’s building, you are transported into their world: pipes and lights in cages line the wall, bunting hangs from the box office facade, jaunty seaside songs waft through the air, and the face of The MacGuffin Project all welcomes you not only inside the retail unit, but also their world – it’s very easy to forget that you’re in Bournemouth and not in this steampunk universe.

Once we had signed our lives away and stored our belongings we knocked on the entrance door, which swung open as an assistant threw himself out of, making us all jump, before welcoming inside. We watched a short video in the style you’d expect to see in early era of videography – sepia tones, warbled sounds, that sort of thing, before the video went wrong. The assistant excused himself and in his absence, the video continued though this was even more themed to the 1800s – muted sound, sepia tone, glitches from where the reel had burned and warped itself from heat, the whole lot.

Another door swings open, making us all jump once again, and we’re taken through to the room where The MacGuffin Project was created. We were told where to start, and the countdown began: 58.5 minutes later, we pulled the final lever: we succeeded in our mission!

Whilst this escape room isn’t inherently designed to be scary, there are definitely some jumpy bits throughout that caught us off-guard, and the whole atmosphere and story that developed throughout the show was definitely creepy: from skeletons of animals through to scribbles hidden throughout, through to the audio and lighting, it was incredibly easy to find yourself lost inside this universe for the time you’re in that room. The theming doesn’t falter at any point either – the artefacts found inside all have reason to be in there.

The detail I love about the puzzles is that it’s not all combination locks: without trying to give too much away, it’s almost like taking part in The Crystal Maze but all the mental and physical skill challenges are all rolled into this one room and you’ve got an hour to figure everything out. Cryptic, I know, but I really don’t want to detract from how clever the room is, especially as the puzzles all flow into one another and you’re constantly re-using

The little piece of detail that I really loved (that most escape rooms don’t do) is that small puzzles build up to a big puzzle, which then feeds into another puzzle somewhere else in the room which really added to the flow as everything fell into place. My favourite detail, and this is just me being a great big geek, is that the entire room runs itself: all the puzzles you solve are all monitored by a computer that lets you know when you’ve done something right and triggers the next part of the game, which is really incredible and honestly mind-boggling when it comes to some of the puzzles being solved!

If you’re ever in Bournemouth, or you want to try an escape room that blends puzzles and immersive storytelling into one, get yourself to The MacGuffin Project!

 

30/09/2017 – The MacGuffin Project

23/09/2017 – Hide & Shriek: Dead Centre

Roughly this time a year and a half ago, I found myself on the way to Southend Victoria to scope out this brand new attraction called Dead Centre run by Hide & Shriek, a relatively new company in the scare industry at the time. Soon enough, they’ve become a company I regularly return to not only because they’re on my doorstep and run year round, but also because I thoroughly enjoy what they do and I know that critiques will be taken on board and rectified for following shows, which is something that I thoroughly appreciate as a reviewer as while I do this for fun and for you readers’ entertainment, I also do it to help the industry improve somewhat.

 

Having said that, this might actually be my hardest review of one of their shows to date as I was both an actor and a participant, and knew a good handful of the actors within the attraction too but don’t worry, I’m not letting these bonds get in the way of my review – I’m still gunna be as harsh as ever!

 

On arrival at Dead Centre, our tickets were scanned and we took our seats on a bench in a semi-protected safe area whilst we waited for our turn: a two tier pyramid of barrels stood on one side of the shopping centre corridor and a wall with a screen built in displayed the title of the experience on the other, whilst eerie atmospheric music played on a loop that echoed throughout our little area, which emphasised the fact that we were completely alone in the shopping centre… or were we?

Soon enough, it was our time to enter the experience: we’re given the generic haunt brief (you are expected to run, no zombies will chase you on the stairs, etc) and we were sent down a service corridor. As we reached the end of this corridor, two shopping centre security guards, an Australian called Jake (though he insisted on being called Maverick and I am so down for that) and another whose name I forgot so I’m gunna call him Dan, welcomed and ushered us closer. He explained that the safe haven we were in has never come under attack thanks to the stringent security checks we have to go through – our first was to prove that we hadn’t been bitten and, rather typically, my small group of friends ended up having to do blood tests to prove we were safe – as it turns out, one of us was The Chosen One, someone whose blood cannot be infected by the zombies! Just as he had explained this, a loud bang as something hit the wall next to us got us moving into the next area.

 

We ran down another service corridor, chaperoned by the two guards that seemed to be a bit uneasy but continued to ensure us that we were safe and it was just probably another guard playing a prank. We soon stopped as we hit a set of doors whilst the service corridor continued off to the right, and Maverick gave us a quick demonstration on how to check for zombies by knocking and asking “are there any zombies?”, pausing, then saying “no” before moving onto the next – this is when I began giggling. He came back and confirmed that it was all safe with this dumb grin on his face whilst Dan just looked at him in disdain. We were then taken through the doors, across the floor of the shopping centre, and into another service corridor where we were told we’d have to go through the Loading Bay in order to reach The Reverend, who’ll know what to do with the blood.

 

On the way down to the Loading Bay we learned a little bit more about The Reverend, and both Dan and Maverick – both of whom were very new to this role, and by this point completely clueless as to what to do, though that didn’t stop them from trying to ease our fears (though I’m still giggling at this point). Maverick did his thing and checked for zombies before running back yelling “gogogogogogogogogogo” as quickly as he can: we’re led through another set of doors and Dan slams them closed behind us once everyone was in, then Maverick explained that he saw a mouse – his worse fear! The laughter continues.

 

We reach the loading bay and just as we pass a van, the alarm goes off and a small horde of zombies chase us through the loading bay and up a ramp and into another maze of service corridors and stairwells. Soon enough, we’re in a slightly more open service corridor where a cart full of water is sat, so we all take a bottle. Just as that happens, one of the service lift doors slams open and a disgruntled shopkeeper comes out and accuses us of stealing his water. The two guards start to fight him and the shopkeeper is left tied to a pillar, just as another small horde of zombies chases us down yet another service corridor and back into the shopping centre.

 

The aim of our mission changes from finding The Reverend to basically calling in a helicopter to rescue us, as the guards finally admit to not having a clue what to do. We make our way up several flights of stairs to the top of the car park where we were to lay down an SOS so a helicopter could come and pick us up. We reach the top of the car park and find a conveniently placed box that had some sheets in for us to make an SOS. Just as we finished, another car alarm went off and a zombie fell out of the car, chasing us down two levels peppered with other zombies before we finally went into another stairwell and went down to the shopping centre where The Reverend could be found.

 

We inch our way forwards to give ourselves a better vantage point to see if there were any zombies about and Maverick being Maverick did his own special check which had me absolutely doubled over in hysterics to the point where I was almost getting stitches from that rather than the running! We got given the all clear and I pull myself together enough to run from where we were stood to the Hide and Shriek shopping unit, where an odd character in a white vest, underwear, and doctors robe met us. He examined the vial of blood and confirmed it was good we came, and we were led into the pitch black corridors to meet The Reverend. We find ourselves back in another service corridor before we reach The Reverend’s door and are ambushed by another small horde of zombies, which we try to hold back with a wheelie bin though this was futile without four of us trying our hardest to hold them back whilst the rest of the group struggled to open the door.

 

Finally the door was opened from the inside by Maverick who had managed to disappear in the havoc and let us in. We re-entered the darkness and barricaded the door behind us. As our eyes grew accustomed to the dark, it became apparent that we were very much in a hospital/laboratory thing, the home of The Reverend. He introduced himself and reiterated that the blood could save lives, and he was determined to show us – he took us through to his back room where an infected lay on an operating table. People were picked out of the crowd, myself included, and we were given specific actions – one of us had to inject The Chosen One’s blood into the infected and the other had to take note of the heart rate as it was yelled out. As the infected was injected with the blood, he slowly came back to life and started convulsing uncontrollably: the lights went out and the infected had vanished! We were ushered into a seated area behind two sheets as the lights in the room strobed at an unpredictable rate, causing the shadows of the zombies to flicker across the sheets as they maul The Reverend. In the madness, the zombies were shot at and we were quickly ushered through more rooms before we found ourselves in an unused shopping unit. We were then told we just had to run in order to escape the hordes and find our own way to the next Safe Haven – the doors to the shop opened and we all sprinted to the exit of the shopping centre, laughing and cheering all the way.

 

Comparing this year to last year, there have been a huge amount of changes based on feedback from last year: the reasoning for going to each of these locations was clearly explained and followed a storyline, and they added a rather effective and well executed piece of theatre within their shopping unit. Alongside this, the shopping centre security guards that took us through the experience were a great touch, not only because army soldiers are done pretty much everywhere else, but also because they bought the trademark comedy to the show which definitely couldn’t have been done with soldiers.

 

Having said that, I do have a few criticisms (of which I know couldn’t be helped), but having chatted to others that had been through as well as the H&S team, it seemed to just be me that picked up on it: there was a lack of zombies. The Loading Bay scene had potential for a good 10 or so zombies to flood the area and make it really chaotic – this was also noticeable in the Car Park and the Service Corridor scenes, though the security guards yelling did add to the confusion a bit. It also would have been nicer for the zombies to get closer too as none of them really felt like a threat until the Finale chase where you had no choice but to weave in and out of them: we had a good ol’ run around the car park and the zombies had a decent enough area to chase us in, but they ambled about and were so scattered about the place that, had it been a real apocalypse, the 17 or so of us in the group could have easily just taken them out.

Continuing on the zombies, whilst I got the idea that in each of the zones the zombies were meant to get progressively more and more zombified, it didn’t really show – there were zombies that did they make up professionally and some that hadn’t, and whilst 99% of the time it wasn’t noticeable, it definitely was toward the end when we had our photo opportunities with them.

Also, something like fake barbed wire between the barrels and wall in the foyer bit right at the beginning of the experience would have been cool, but not a necessity.

The one final thing I want to shit on (in the nicest way possible) was the scene within the unit. I understand it’s a small area, but those bloody seats that were facing side on so you had to turn your head really didn’t do anything, and in fact kinda detracted from the experience a little as you had to hold an uncomfortable position for a short while. I’d have also had the lights flash a little bit quicker, but that’s just personal taste – the way the shadows projected onto the sheet really added to the visuals and helped soften the brightness of the strobes.

Despite these few critiques, I honestly enjoyed myself and whilst it wasn’t a scary experience, it sure was fun, entertaining, and hilarious! If it makes a return (and I hope it does), I very much urge you to go.

 

23/09/2017 – Hide & Shriek: Dead Centre