The current fashion for pop up theatre in unusual venues has led me to witness some surprising pairings over the last couple of years. Ionesco over empty dinner plates in Latvian House? Done. Opera in the Thames Tunnel? Seen it. Macbeth in a rose garden? Yep. In this context, a supernatural murder mystery in the London Museum of Water and Steam barely warrants the raising of an eyebrow.
In fact, this particular juxtaposition feels entirely apposite. The crime took place in 1871 and much of the investigation takes place in contemporary time, and what could be more Victorian than the London plumbing system? The echoing, cavernous space, the gleam of lanterns on polished brass, the looming threat of the powerful machines all lend a deliciously gloomy air of menace and otherworldliness to the proceedings.
We began the evening in prosaic 2017. As we tucked into an excellent high tea, our mission was explained to us. The sound of a child crying, deep beneath the mighty Cornish Engine, had been alarming the staff and sending visitors fleeing from the museum in droves. No living source of the noise having been identified, the museum governors had enlisted the services of eminent supernatural specialist Jack Daw to resolve the problem. And he needed our help. Working together in small groups, we would harness his psychic powers to witness for ourselves the events of that
fateful day as the whole museum geared up for the grand gala opening, and endeavour to discover what really happened to poor little Billy Ward.
In the first act we were merely spectators. Marshalled by Jack and the discreet and efficient Magpie we galloped through the museum hot on the heels of our selected subject, watching a series of tableaux and trying to separate the genuine clues from the red herrings. Once that was over we took a welcome breather to pool our information, before being sent to interview the ghosts directly and attempt to scare or wheedle a confession out of them.
The attention to detail was meticulous. Each of the ghosts had developed a fascinating and well-padded back story and had an essential role to play. Each character was believable, era-appropriate and watchable. The actors, while seemingly unaware of our presence for the most part, managed to weave between us with subtle ease and, though some of them bounded around at great speed, they ensured that we were never left behind. As the museum was in semi-darkness and we were only issued with one lantern per group there were a few dicey moments on the stairs, but thankfully we all survived more-or-less intact. Despite the challenging acoustics everyone was audible, except at the very end when for some reason they decided to switch to a pre-recorded script which nobody could hear.
The acting from all involved was admirable. It cannot be easy to improvise when you are lying on a hard bench in the darkness, being inexpertly interrogated by a group of giggling and bewildered amateurs, but they pulled it off with aplomb and rapier swift initiative. They misled, berated and teased us, whilst managing at the same time to furnish us with the information we needed to solve the mystery. Not that our group managed it; despite coming up with several wild and entertaining theories we turned out to be way off the mark.
However, that’s not really the point of the thing. Theatre such as this requires commitment from the audience almost as much as from the actors. To get the most out of it, you must be prepared to interact with your group as well as with the cast and thoroughly immerse yourself in the world which has been created for you. It’s all about the fun of the chase, the atmosphere and the escape from the cold, dark reality of January. Theatre doesn’t get much more interactive or much better than this.
Review by Genni Trickett
An immersive Victorian drama about desire, deceit, betrayal, gleaming metal and hidden fire.
It was 1871, and every level of the pumping station was bustling with activity in preparation for the grand opening of the 100” Cornish Engine, when two unexpected guests from the workhouse arrived demanding to see the small boy who had been apprenticed to the Chief Engineer.
Now, more than a century later, a child’s crying has been heard from beneath the Cornish Engine and it is starting to unnerve the tourists. The Museum has invited the master of the supernatural, Jack Daw, to awaken the past and uncover the truth.
You must solve the mystery in groups of six so bring friends or make new ones.
Cast and Creative
Written by David Knight
Director/Producer/Magpie – Rosanna Mallinson
Sound Design – Richard Durning
Jackdaw – Ben Hale
Matthew Shaw – Edmund Attril
Eleanor Shaw – Christie Peto
Matilda Robinson – Debbie Bird
Sarah Hughes – Bethan Leyshon
Robert Morgan – Gareth Turkington
Harry Taylor – Adam Hughes
THE SILHOUETTE IN THE SMOKE
London Museum of Water and Steam
Friday 5 January 2018 and 11 other dates