Review: The Game's Afoot (Madame Tussauds)

Become a sleuth in Les Enfants Terrible’s new interactive detective adventure through Victorian London

A triple murder in old London town: three men of letters dead in three nights, each found with a poison pen through the heart and a poem pinned to their chest. A theatre critic, a newspaper editor and a rare book dealer have all met inky ends, and the killer, still at large, needs a long sentence. This sounds like a job for…oh, wait…Sherlock Holmes has only gone and skipped town, the cad.

A job for us, then: a clot of new recruits at Scotland Yard, all armed with teeny-tiny police notebooks and a list of five suspects. Les Enfants Terribles’ new interactive piece, tucked into the basement at Madame Tussauds, just round the corner from 221b Baker Street itself, doesn’t so much throw us in at the deep end as drop us into the Atlantic Ocean.

Samuel Wyer’s designs deposit us in the centre of Victorian London. Music hall posters paper the walls and streetlamps give off a soft, gaslight glow. He’s brought some of its most iconic spots to life – the East India Docks, piled high with cargo cases, and an early Metropolitan Line train, whizzing into town. The morgue’s as grimy as the cobbled streets outside, and Sherlock’s study is a curiosity shop of knick-knacks and trophies.

In amongst the detail, leads and clues – letters to decode, newspapers to scour. It may still have that naff, plasticky museum 'experience’ feel – the way a wild moor hits a back wall and fireplaces flicker with electric lights – but you’re so busy chasing the case, pressed for time to piece it all together, that it stops mattering. The game isn’t just afoot. It takes over.

It’s up to us to eke information out of those five suspects and the volley Scotland Yarders dotted around – but you’ll only get the scraps you need with the right line of enquiry, the right timing and, crucially, the right tone. Suspects scare easily, they take offence, and a committed, disciplined cast keep character while keeping you on track – or knocking you off it. Watson’s on hand to help, but faced with a tangle of associations and plenty of grudges and gripes, there's almost too much to make sense of. There are enough red herrings here to throw the Hound of the Baskervilles off the scent.

You know what? It’s great fun, simple as that; hardly great art, but then neither are the Sherlock stories themselves. Once you get going, a few titbits under your belt, that interactive theatre awkwardness gives way and, if you’re anything like me, competitiveness kicks in. The killer feels just within reach and, crucially, just out of it, but the solution’s not really the point – even if, as so often with murder mysteries, its final revelation doesn’t quite have the elegant ingenuity you crave. The swirl of mystery is satisfying enough – enough, even, to make a return visit for another case, that of the Bloodthirsty Beast, seem appealing.

If you manage to crack the case, you’re a better sleuth than me. I had a method, a motive and what I figured to be firm evidence, only to clap an innocent in cuffs at the last; my inceptive detective career in tatters, my face a study in scarlet. Turns out I’m more Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes. Back to elementary school, my dear Watson…

The Game’s Afoot runs at Madame Tussauds until 30 September.

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