I am really bad with horror stories. I don’t like scary movies and can still remember, and am frightened by the ‘nursery’ rhyme at the end of the first – and best – Nightmare on Elm Street. My other problem is one of theatrical FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. So, when asked if I fancied going to review an immersive horror show called 139 Copeland Road, I naturally decided to put myself at risk of nightmares and go along to it.
139 Copeland Road is a real house in South East London where a bad thing happened in 1974 when the occupier Mary Collins and her two children were burned to death in a very unusual house fire. Since then, the property has remained empty and picked up a certain reputation in the neighbourhood for strange phenomena occurring within it. But now, forty-two years after the original fire, a leading psychic is trying to find out if the reputation is deserved.
One of the problems with reviewing immersive theatre is that everything has to be experienced and therefore the review must be completely spoiler free. So, telling you as much as I can, the first thing I would say is make sure you have plenty of layers on when you go to 139 Copeland Road. It’s cold. When you arrive, you will actually go into the property next door, 137 Copeland Road, and while you are in there, it is really worth looking around as the investigators have put a lot of information on the walls about the house next door. I would definitely recommend reading as much as possible.
Looking at 139 Copeland Road as a production, I have to say I was very impressed with it. The story itself has been really well thought out and highly believable – so much so that I have just been googling to see if it was based on reality. The cast deliver an extremely realistic scenario that, no matter how cynical you may be, cannot help but grab you by the throat and make you doubt your own view of the paranormal world. Without giving anything away I have to single out the psychic who has the most amazing voice. Again I can’t say too much but there was something really compelling about his voice throughout the performance.
The setting helps and both 137 and 139 are wonderful houses for this sort of immersive show. In fact, the whole thing was really great. I would have preferred it to last a bit longer – the roughly one-hour running time goes by very fast, but never feels like you are being rushed. The director really knows their horror stories and has put in some excellent elements guaranteed to wake the ‘fight or flight’ reflexes. I’m a bit of an old hand at theatre and theatrical trickery but there were parts of the show that I am still not 100% certain how they were accomplished.
I’m hoping that, without giving too much away, I have whetted your appetite to go and see 139 Copeland Road. It was a really superb production that takes immersive theatre up a notch. Personally, there were no nightmares for me last night but, as I’m writing this, various parts of the evening are replaying themselves in my mind, and I may just sleep with the lights on tonight.
Review by Terry Eastham
In 1974 a huge fire engulfed 139 Copeland Road, with its inhabitants still inside. Guided by a renowned psychic, we will invite intimate audiences of 15 to take part in a unique immersive experiment, and conduct a séance to discover the dark secrets that lie hidden within the house. What happens next we cannot predict or apologise for.
Venue: This is a site-specific production, and takes place in two ‘derelict’ houses (these are in fact managed properties). The address is 137 and 139 Copeland Road, SE15 3SN – near Peckham Rye.
139 Copeland Road
Author: Richard Johnson
Director: Christa Harris
Strictly over 18+