It has been a long time since I last saw or heard anything from the depths of Southend as Hide and Shriek went silent shortly after their Halloween plans, which had me a little worried as there’s very little in the way of haunts down in Essex and they’re one of my favourite event organisers, so when Delectably Dead came onto my radar, I was all over that like a zombie on brains!
From what I knew about the show before entering, I knew it was going to be a mix of theatre and dinner at the same time. I did one in Disneyland or something years back that was themed to cowboys and you got served dinner whilst stuntmen did acrobatics and all sorts on horseback, so I was kinda basing my judgement on that: I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t right either.
Upon arrival, it was clear that the intent was to completely immerse you from the second you stepped into the event. We were served drinks in the function room next to the room Delectably Dead was hosted which had caution tape wrapped around pillars and amusing signs dotted around the walls, and when the main doors opened we were given a little booklet that we had to fill out which was also riddled with Hide and Shriek humour (which I absolutely love).
Once we had filled out our rations booklet, we took our seats on our designated table, which was unfortunately further away from the stage than I had liked but we can’t win it all, I guess? Anyway. Looking around the room at the theming on the tables, in the rations book, and on the screens dotted about the place, it was clear that there was a lot of inspiration from the Fallout game series which I highly commended and actually got loads of positive feedback from friends when I showed them the pictures. If you can imagine sitting at a diner with caution tape stuck to the tablecloth whilst hanging industrial/miner lights flickered on and off to simulate being run off a generator, whilst 1940s/1950s-esque music played on repeat in the background and the characters wandering around whilst introducing themselves to you, you’d kinda get the bizarre mixture of haunt meets dining experience feeling.
The room filled up to the brink with a bizarre demographic: the ages ranged from their teens right through to their 40s and maybe 50s, wearing either t-shirt and trousers or smart casual. It was clear that it had bought the dining experience crowd and the horror/haunt crowd together in a room for an evening, which was absolutely lovely as we found ourselves making fantastic friends with people dotted all throughout the room during the course of the event.
Soon enough, it was showtime! The characters all popped into action and the generic zombie story began, with lots of thrills and spills, and a surprising amount of violence and rude language, which was surprising seeing as the other Hide and Shriek events I had been to definitely lacked these – definitely not a negative point as all the actions and language had its reason to be there. Not long after the show began, we got treated to Hide and Shriek’s trademark introduction video (I won’t lie, I was looking forward to this). For those that have never been to a Hide and Shriek event, it’s basically the generic safety briefing you get just as you’re about to enter a haunt (don’t touch the actors, they might touch you blah blah blah) but done in the style of the show, with lots of humour. I really and truly hope they never get bored of these, because I absolutely love them!
I guess this is the bit where the it gets tough to write about the event because it wasn’t a haunt, it wasn’t immersive theatre, it was a dining experience. For those that don’t know what that is (I didn’t know until 24 hours ago either), it’s basically a theatre show with a number of intervals dotted throughout in which you get given a chance to eat, go to the loo, top up your drink, have a smoke, etc. As someone who came from a haunt/theatre perspective, it really didn’t work for me – it felt like just as we were getting immersed in the show, we were ripped away from it to eat.
In my opinion, there were three different factors that ruined the experience for me. I’m not including the immersion issue above as that’s not an issue with the show per se, it’s my expectations coming from the haunt/theatre scene as opposed to faults in the show.
The first is the volume of the actors: whilst they did well to project their voices so that the ~200+ people could hear them, it was nigh on impossible to hear and understand what was going on through entire scenes in some cases due to the positioning of the actors and the general background noise (and not-so background noise, in some cases) from the audience. I’d suggest radio throat mics that hooked into the same PA system the projector and TVs were using.
The second is alcohol. I get that it’s nice to have a drink when you’re out at a theatre show, but there were some incredibly drunk people there that were yelling at inappropriate moments and generally treating it as if it were a pub, which the actors tried to combat but drunks are just complete and utter cunts at times, and none were more cunty than the cunt that was sat on our table yelling out the most vile shit I’d only expect at a Britain First rally. The actor receiving the abuse dealt with it in a fantastic manner and manged to keep himself composed extremely well, but fuck me I have no idea how she woke up this morning with just a hangover! The worst bit is, there were bouncers at the only entrance to the room that should have seen she was just getting drunker and louder as the event progressed and could have stopped her from re-entering the room for being too drunk, but all they did was give her a warning. I get that she had spent money to be there, but so had another 200 odd people and the last thing we wanted was to hear a load of racist bollocks instead of the show. I’d have either had a dry event or limit the alcohol to a bottle of wine between two people, with the bottles sat on the table, and then the bar open at the end. This could have potentially saved the actors from having to scream and yell so much that they were getting hoarse voices by the end of the show.
The third point is the number of people. Where we were sat (Zone E) was the opposite side of the room from where the action was taking place. With the two factors above and having a number of bodies obscuring our view, we had no idea what was going on and honestly started getting bored of sitting there trying to figure out what was going on, and only a handful of times would an actor come by our table for the briefest of moments – I feel sorry for the tables that were right at the back by the bar, it’s hardly surprising that they were just drinking and having their own little fun. I’d definitely consider having the number of tables one row, or maybe two rows, deep so that everyone is included in the show and it’s easier to follow.
Moving onto the positives of the show, the amount of detail in the very minimalist scenery was incredible – the posters that I mentioned in the bar were placed in the advertisement spaces in the loos, the little jokes on the ration book and in the intro video, the little stickers on the food, it all had something amusing that related to the apocalypse and zombies, and really added to the dining experience side of the event.
Also, from what I could hear I’d honestly say that without the dining experience bit and with the right crowd, this would have been a really tense and gripping piece of horror/thriller theatre. The combination of live actors and video really meshed well together, and really pulled off the horror tropes and paid homages to pioneering people and movies well. Sure it’s “another zombie show”, but the level of dedication the actors poured into their characters was so high that it would have been easy to have believed everything they said and for it to feel like it wasn’t just “another zombie show”, which actually really made me sad that all this effort was poured into the show only for it to be ruined because it felt like people couldn’t give a fuck about the show.
On reflection, I’m happy to chalk this down to a bad audience as all the other Hide and Shriek events I’ve attended have received nothing but praise from me in the past, though I don’t think I’ll be returning to another horror dining experience in the near future.