I am not very good at immersive theatre. I'm the audience member who never wants to walk into
the darkened room and interact with the actor in a mask. Which made me a bit nervous about the entire idea of this venture from the theatre company Les Enfants Terribles and the virtual reality LIVR, who have teamed up to create an online adventure in which the audience plays detective in a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
On the other hand, I've always loved a whodunnit, and the Sherlock Holmes adventures have been part of the literary cannon that has entertained me through lockdown, so I was also quite excited. The result was, for me, pure pleasure, an escapist entertainment that's not so much theatre as a detective game with a bit of acting thrown in.
The set up for The Hung Parliament is simple. You sign up (tickets are £17.50), either as a group of friends or as a member of the public in which case you will play alongside other people unknown to you. There is a maximum of six per viewing, and you are supposedly green detectives, straight out of the police college, recruited by Inspector Lestrange to help an absent Holmes solve a murder mystery.
The game's afoot from the moment you discover that the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and the Lord Chamberlain have all been found hanging in their rooms. Each died on their birthday after receiving a card with a quotation inside. It is now the Prime Minister's birthday and your task is to find the murderer – from a list of suspects – before he too dies.
Your guide in this encounter is your own Doctor Watson, slightly bumbling, played by a number of actors. In my case he was Dominic Allen and he was very sweet, though his jokes about online technology and your "spyglass" – ie your mobile phone – initially fell slightly flat. There isn't much of Conan Doyle in his script, either, which surprised me. But it's impossible not to get into the spirit of the thing as Oliver Lansley and Anthony Spargo's text whisks you into a series of rooms where you must search for clues.
The online world isn't exactly real, but with sound effects and some decent sets, it works as a place to explore and the investigation is engrossing, as you discover clues, such as a crumpled piece of paper, or a photograph on a sideboard. From your survey of the investigation site, you then go to Scotland Yard to rifle through files, or to the forensic lab to uncover the cause of death. You then get to interview suspects (the least satisfying part of the game as far as I was concerned because you are working alone and it's less fun as result) and then, with the help of Sherlock Holmes, put the mystery together.
There are lots of red herrings, and a satisfying number of people to narrow down. It's not really
theatrical – when I signed up, I'd imagined there would be more live action, and more acting and
certainly more Holmes. It seems to function more like a sophisticated and pretty clever version of one of those online murder mystery games where you are provided with clues and a script. But there's something very good-hearted about it, a likeable quality running through its slick story-telling. I enjoyed the company of my fellow detectives (and thank them for putting up with my own attempt to throw chaos into the mix by misidentifying a clue) and felt very smart when we actually solved the case. If you find yourself with 90-minutes to spare – and who doesn't – then it's a capital way to while away the time.