Armed with wristband, a small group of people are ushered into the world of the roaring 20s; the private office of Detective Peel. The set is a perfect combination of theatrical detail and functional bar. Immediately drawn into the world of the story, we are given some context of what the evening has in store for us, where we are going, the events taking place there and the characters we will meet. From there on we are sent through to a secret, stylish prohibition era bar, and it appears to be up to us, which is the key to any immersive performance. The more inquisitive attitude taken going in, the more secrets you can uncover.
Following a successful last production, How To Solve A Problem Like Murder, which took place above a pub in Kensal Green, Uncorked Theatre have found a more intimate venue for their latest piece which is perfect for the secret, underground nature of the story they want to tell. We are to be ‘submerged in a world of music, jazz, sex, and booze’, and invited to ‘get your hands dirty immersing yourself into the greatest soiree of the century: The Prohibition Era of the roaring 20s’. This production has a stronger sense of structure in terms of ensuring the audience remain engaged in the narrative. For reasons that will become clear, each group of audience members is attached to a particular character for the duration of the performance. I became part of The Bandit’s gang which immediately gave some context the instructions on my confirmation email. This was a wise decision as the narrative was a lot more complex this time round, and the fluid nature of their last piece meant several audience members missed key pieces of action. Not so with ‘1927’, which sets you up and sends you off with enough information to get involved.
Without giving too away, we are presented with a production full of action; from the cheeky 20s era dance routines holding the attention of the gentlemen in the audience, to the highly charged, more secluded scenes which required some effort to seek out. As with most immersive/ interactive theatre the more you explore, the more there is to uncover but in this instance there is no pressure to work too hard. In ‘How To Solve A Problem Like Murder’, the audience were required to solve a mystery through hidden clues as well as observing the piece. The stronger narrative structure of ‘1927’ allows you to come to your conclusion without frantically looking through piles of documents, and the characters are open to interact with the audience in a more direct manner. The result is a more engaging work which succeeds both in drawing you into the story, making you keen to work out the puzzle, whilst also giving you the time to relax and absorb the setting. I recall feeling unsure which rooms to prioritise and scenes to see in the last production, whilst also being aware in the back of my mind there were bits and pieces to read and I was running out of time, but the decision to simplify the narrative devices works well this time round, and proves a story can unfold effectively when it's kept simple.
‘1927’ focuses on the acting to tell the story, which gave the opportunity for the performers to showcase themselves much more effectively. It was good to see Christie Lee Manning taking on a prominent role, proving herself as an engaging actor as well as dancer (in the last show). The central relationship between Vivienne and Edward was clearly established, and the sense of public and private images allowed the actors (Manning and Phil Aizlewood) to demonstrate their versatility. I will simply suggest lingering in more hidden areas of the set to witness some of their strongest scenes. The remaining gangsters have developed back-stories which add context to the narrative, thus supporting the formation of the audience’s conclusion. A particular mention to Oli Yellop as The Bandit who developed an engaging rapport with our group, encouraging our curiosity and motivating us to explore the finer details of the story.
If you're looking for something different; a fun night out, a few drinks and an exciting story, go and explore the goings on at Evans and Peel Detective Agency.
“Help each gangster secure their share of the deal, remembering all the while, that criminals don't play fair”.