You enter through a high-street optician’s office in a London shopping centre, passing eye charts and lenses, before leaving its bright lights for a dark corridor. Beyond is an ornate study with plush furniture, a well-stocked bar and a large portrait of Benedict Cumberbatch in a deerstalker hat.
Every escape room tries to be immersive, but Sherlock: The Game Is Now has a major advantage – it’s officially sanctioned by the makers of the BBC series. That means Cumberbatch (Holmes), Martin Freeman (Watson), Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes) and Andrew Scott (Moriarty) pop up in specially recorded videos and voice-overs.
And rather than the adrenaline-charged action of some escape rooms, Sherlock offers puzzles and a feeling of authenticity that will appeal to fans – with the promise of Holmes-themed cocktails at the end.
This Sherlock experience opened at the end of 2018, in Shepherd’s Bush’s slightly drab W12 shopping centre. Things are a good deal smarter in the atmospherically lit escape rooms – the main room carefully recreates the living room of 221B Baker Street. It’s here where participants are recruited into the Network: a team of agents battling the world’s villains.
Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, plus escape room veterans Time Run, created the experience, which begins with a briefing from Mycroft. With Holmes out of the country, and the dastardly Moriarty pulling the strings from beyond the grave, it’s down to you to save the day.
The Game Is Now lasts around 100 minutes, with a series of escape-room puzzles themed around Sherlock. Here, you’ll find statues, combination locks, magnifying glasses, dice, bookcases and boxes full of clues. Cumberbatch pops up occasionally to give encouragement, advice and the odd bit of needle. The focus is on mental problem-solving, and reports from past teams suggest most of them eventually figure out a way to thwart Moriarty’s evil plans – and get their hands on a themed cocktail.
Challenges open up new cocktail ingredients, which you can enjoy at the end of the session in the adjoining bar, The Mind Palace. While the escape room is open to anyone over the age of 10, you have to be 18 to enter the bar.
The Mind Palace certainly puts on a show – vials steam, ice cubes are cracked with hammers, and see-through teapots fizzle with strange booze. The menu includes A Scandal in Belgravia (gin, vodka, Cocchi Americano, cuttlefish ink and bitters), The Hounds of Baskerville (whisky, bitters and cherry wood fog) and Mrs Hudson’s Punch (gin, port, sparkling wine and a blood orange and cinnamon tonic). Pizzas, beer, wine and alcohol-free cocktails complete the spread.
Arthur Conan Doyle created the Victorian detective in 1887, and Holmes has been busy ever since. Conan Doyle tried to finish him off in 1893 after a clifftop struggle with Moriarty, but eventually bowed to public pressure and began writing new cases again in 1901.
Since then, Holmes has been adapted by other authors and has repeatedly featured as a character in plays and films – the Guinness World Records reckons 75 actors have played him, including Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey Jr, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s been played as a British schoolboy and a Japanese woman and has battled ancient monsters and Nazi Germany.
In the context of this wild range of adaptations, Sherlock: The Game Is Now is a pretty loyal take on the great detective. And while Conan Doyle’s Holmes prefers wine and the odd dose of (then legal) cocaine, he wouldn’t have met Watson without a cocktail bar’s help. In A Study in Scarlet (1887), the first Holmes story, Watson is in the bar at the Criterion Restaurant, one of the pioneers of mixed drinks in London, when an old colleague tells him about a potential roommate. The roommate is Holmes, and one of the world’s great bromances begins – which is a connection to savour if you defeat Moriarty and get to taste a cocktail of your own…