Review: The Grift (Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel)
Tom Salamon's immersive show opens in east London
For various reasons I had an appalling journey to Bethnal Green and arrived for The Grift with only seconds to spare and in a rotten mood. Frankly, the last thing I wanted at that point was to participate in an immersive theatre piece involving puzzle-solving with complete strangers, carting padlocked boxes about, being shuttered in enclosed spaces with enthusiastic actors, and lots of enforced walking, even around a venue as opulent and eclectic as the Town Hall Hotel. I'm only telling you all this to highlight how remarkable it was that I was so thoroughly won over by this quirky, ingenious and altogether delightful piece of entertainment.
In common with some other site-specific shows such as Alice's Adventures Underground and The Game's Afoot, The Grift blurs the line between theatrical performance and board game made flesh. The participants are required to collaborate in teams to pull off the ultimate 'grift' (confidence trick) to avenge a recently deceased hotel resident, who we are introduced to in a witty slideshow and short film at the outset, and who was the lovechild of a pair of showbiz icons of yesteryear.
One of the most fascinating and fun things about the whole experience is that we, as an audience, get to roam over much of the old Bethnal Green Town Hall. This lavishly converted municipal building has such astonishing decor that it isn't always clear what has been specially installed for the show versus what is part of this five-star hotel's flamboyant interior design.
A team of actors pop up throughout the course of the evening, playing characters with familial connections to the dead man, dishonest hotel staff, or even an outright villain (Ged Forrest, genuinely threatening); they also offer clues, tell stories, occasionally chivvy up, and are a lively, convincing bunch.
Deviser and director Tom Salamon has created a logistical masterpiece that palpably conveys a sense of danger and urgency as it progresses. Without giving away too much, the performance winds up in the magnificent Edwardian courtroom and makes for a very satisfying theatrical conclusion. This grift is well worth perpetrating, but just bear in mind when choosing your footwear that you will be doing a lot of walking in the course of it. All in all, it's a heck of a lot of fun, and there's even a cheeky cocktail included.
The Grift runs at Bethnal Green Town Hall until 25 March.