Up and down the UK, entertainment companies are vying for your attention by spinning the traditional ideas of theatre and cinema on their head. Guests are no longer expected to simply sit in their seats and watch a performance unfold; instead, they are actively encouraged to join in, dress up and step into the play. Here are five of the very best immersive theatre experiences in the UK.
Secret Cinema is the ‘Granddad’ of immersive productions in the UK, creating fantasy worlds based on your favourite movies. Calling themselves ‘storytellers’ and ‘innovators’, they first began creating their iconic productions in 2007, fusing film, theatre, music and art to create truly unique experiences. There are two strings to their bow: ‘SC Tell No One’ and ‘SC Presents’. ‘SC Tell No One’ are the secret events where the film and the location are not revealed until guests arrive on the night of the performance. ‘SC Presents’, on the other hand, shares the title of the film, but the location and details remain a surprise. Previous productions have been as diverse as Back to the Future, Alien and Moulin Rouge.
Punchdrunk has been creating immersive theatrical productions in the UK since 2000, producing their own brand of theatre where the audience wanders around the play and can choose their own path. Performances such as The Drowned Man and It Felt Like a Kiss are hosted in large, often dilapidated spaces such as disused warehouses or office blocks that are completely transformed into the world of the play. Guests usually wear masks when they wander around, creating a sense of solitude while also making it difficult to distinguish who is a guest and who is an actor. Those who have attended one of their exclusive performances (tickets are notoriously hard to come by) will know that latching onto one of the actors and following them through the world of the play often reveals one-to-one performances and extra-special scenes.
Rear View takes the concept of immersive theatre and plays with your expectations; rather than the audience moving around a production at their own speed, they sit on the back of a vehicle designed for Rear View and are driven from scene to scene. The town or city becomes the stage, and hi-tech headphones provide the audio. Guests should pay close attention when driving between scenes, as elements of the production are even played out to the side and behind the vehicle as it travels, creating an immersive experience like no other.
HiddenCity works a little bit differently than the aforementioned productions. More of a treasure hunt than a theatrical production, guests participate by solving clues that are sent to their phones, taking them on a secret tour of the city, often visiting places that they would not have stumbled upon themselves. There are several ‘themes’ to choose from, including ‘The Hunt for the Cheshire Cat’ that leads guests on a wacky trail through old bookshops and hidden alleyways in London to locate the missing cat. Participants pick up clues and treats all along their journey through the different paths, and there is usually a narrative behind everything. The treasure hunts are designed for adults. The clues are cryptic, and you will be expected to navigate the city on your own.
Based in London, CoLab presents a series of fully immersive theatrical experiences that aren’t for the faint of heart. Participants may be tied up, kidnapped and interrogated during the two-hour ‘play’ in which they find themselves as the main character. Previous performances have included being hunted and being part of a heist, with the aim of the game to seemingly make you feel like you’re the lead in an action movie. Guests will be placed into small groups and directed to London-based locations (some public, some specially created for the production) before finding themselves right in the middle of the action.