Back in 2018, I dropped out of the twenty-first century and dropped into World War II in, what I thought at the time, was an absolutely awesome immersive theatre experience. The show was called Hidden Figures and I happily gave it the coveted five stars in my review. It is now 2022 and following a rewrite and a change of location, Hidden Figures is back welcoming new members of the SOE. I went along to see if it was still as good.
Thanks to the information on my ticket, I knew where to be and when. More importantly, I knew the password to get into the SOE assessment centre. Once through the door, I, along with my group were welcomed and given our identities. Now, as this is a fully immersive production, I could stop at this point, and in fact, I am going to as it’s very difficult to say any more without giving anything away and possibly spoiling it for you.
What I will say is that if I thought the show was awesome back in 2018, well it totally blew me away this time. Every aspect of the experience has been enhanced and is designed to make you forget the outside world and concentrate all your skill and efforts in joining the SOE and defeating the Nazis. There are various scenes/exercises to get through and as you progress, and no matter how much you may be telling yourself internally “it’s just a show” you can’t help but be drawn into the emotional side of the experience. For me, the two ‘scenes’ that had the most effect were… Well obviously, I can’t say, but they both have stayed with me and are coming to mind as I write this.
The reason I was so affected can be summed up in one word, authenticity.
Every single aspect of Hidden Figures has been researched and brought to life with an attention to detail that is nothing short of perfection. Writer and Producer: Paul King has created a story that makes you, or rather your character, the centre of the action. Every character you meet – played by the amazingly talented cast (Natalia Bogdanova, Dare Emmanuel, Zoe Flint, Chloe Mashiter, Christopher Styles and Arathi Suresh) was a real person. As with all immersive productions, there is an element of scripting in the show, but the audience doesn’t have a script, so the cast have to rely on their wits and skill to not only keep the story moving but also ensure the audience are invested in it. And they pull this off in fine style – in fact, I might have ended up getting engaged to a dashing RAF officer on my trip.
Director: Zoe Flint uses every inch of the surprisingly large performing space which is fitted out in perfect 1940s style. And none of it looks like it is a modern-day copy. Everything is so right, I imagine Designer Christopher Styles spent hours or days going around antique shops, car boot sales, eBay, etc in order to secure just the right item to add to the WWII feel. As readers of my reviews know, I am very critical of uniforms if they aren’t right. But here, once again, Hidden Figures have got it right.
In case you’re wondering, the title of the show refers to the characters played by the audience. Each of them is an unsung hero/heroine from the Second World War, and each of them has an amazing story to learn.
What more can I say? Well, normally after a show finishes the audience gives a round of applause and leaves. After we had finished our visit, the team I was with, none of whom I had known two hours previously, stayed together in the bar having a chat and even getting a team picture. The show is amazingly put together, wonderfully delivered and a textbook example of everything that is great about immersive theatre. My one criticism is that I can’t give the production more than five stars.
Oh, and my final bit of advice to you dear reader. Before you leave Hidden Figures ask about the Ski of Friendship.
Review by Terry Eastham
Production Company: PartyGeek.
Type: Immersive, interactive, diversity-focused theatre.
Cast: Natalia Bogdanova, Dare Emmanuel, Zoe Flint, Chloe Mashiter, Christopher Styles, Arathi Suresh.
Director: Zoe Flint (Associate Artist at Parabolic).
Writer and Producer: Paul King (Creative Director at PartyGeek).
Designer: Christopher Styles, recent creator behind an “emotionally nuanced immersive production” [The Stage] of Illicit Signals (Creative Director at Mechanical Thought).
Show Length: 120 mins.
Duration: running till Jan 2023.
Location: Crypt at Bethnal Green, a new venue run by Parabolic Theatre (of For King and Country & Crisis What Crisis fame).