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

22/10/2017 – Screamfest Burton

Screamfest Burton popped up on my radar late last year, so I made sure to visit this year.

Freak Out is a funhouse style haunt riddled with clowns, strobes and choices the guest could make as they were going through. The clowns pretty bog standard (imagine clowns in a circus) and felt like they were lacking energy throughout: the only elements carrying the atmosphere in this haunt was the lighting and music unfortunately, as the facade is beautiful and lurid, and that luridness didn’t present itself inside – a UV strobe section would definitely be an improvement, if done right.

Soul Seekers was up next, and this was definitely a step in the right direction: the theming and set design was incredible, and the introduction scene was very well rehearsed and extremely effective at creeping everyone out; however, each actor was trying to steal the spotlight which, in quite a narrative driven section, definitely worked against them: the person doing the narrative needed to command the stage whilst the rest toned it down a bit. Absolutely loved the use of strobes during, though.

Love Hurts is a brand new concept to me – it’s the first time I’ve shared a toilet cubicle with so many people! Once again, the set both inside and through the queue line was very impressive and clever, though the plot needed to be explained/explored a little more as it felt like it got lost throughout. There are some rather bizarre and clever set pieces that I honestly never expected (see the first point in this paragraph) and some of the scares were well hidden but needed to be brushed up on: once again, I wasn’t buying into the characters desperation for help, and the audio needed to be louder, but the finale was absolutely brilliant and possibly one of my favourite ways that a chainsaw was used – well done there!

Demonica, my favourite haunt at Screamfest Burton, looks absolutely beautiful on the outside with ponds of water and smoke lit red with the sign spouting fire at intervals, while a demonic character guides victims to one of four doors: the scene inside these rooms is absolutely incredible and the strongest use of an element like this! Once through, a twisted and dark soundtrack pierces the air as you make your way through almost pitch black corridors and a cage maze filled with strobes and more screaming from the soundtrack. I’d very much like to see this have more actors in it and have the actors touch you in this section as it’d definitely feel more threatening, and I’d like to see the huge speaker right in the middle of the strobe maze moved off to a corner so it’s hidden under a strobe (and therefore invisible) or hidden above you somehow.


Dia De Las Muretos is Screamfest Burton’s cornfield maze and their most developed concept, which it has to be seeing as it definitely puts it’s foot across the line with regards to sensitivity and theming: it’s themed around a day of the dead festival that’s been overridden by a Mexican gang that’s out to kill. The trailer ride over was fun as the actors and radio show helped set the scene, but once inside the haunt itself it kinda falls flat: there were lots of sections that had very little interaction with actors, who all felt a bit 2D and lifeless when we did interact with them – the first set of chainsaws we met were the only characters that felt alive, which is a shame as there were some real possibilities for actors to really sell themselves to us. The finale definitely needs a re-think as it almost felt like they were grasping at straws in order to use the prop that is used. I enjoyed the use of lighting and the possibility for the group to get split up.


Overall, the attractions felt very weak: the actors across all the haunts felt like they could be dressed up in a costume and chucked into any of the haunts and they’d be able to work the attraction: whilst this is clever, it also feels like you’re watching the same thing happening again and again and again every 30 seconds, which (for me) gets tedious quickly. The haunts themselves are well themed and use sound and lighting (or the lack of lighting) well, and whilst none of them were particularly strong, there was a number of scenes through each that I honestly loved and thought was very clever.



22/10/2017 – Screamfest Burton

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?



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