When the opportunity came my way to experience more immersive theatre at the Colab Factory, I jumped at the opportunity. This is the third production I’ve experienced in this performance venue and I have not been disappointed yet.
For King and Country is the Parabolic Theatre production currently residing within the Colab Factory at London Bridge. It’s booking until June and if you’re any kind of war historian, wannabe performer, budding politician or just a fan of fabulous interactive performance then go go go… I promise you won’t be disappointed.
This piece is a genuine immersive production where each audience member has the choice to step up and affect the action and outcome of the piece as much or as little as they choose. I remained a bystander throughout the piece, and only really voiced my opinions in the last 20 minutes, however, my +1 was very much an active member of the audience from the get-go, and most definitely one of the few who had a huge effect on the final outcome.
The beauty of this piece is that whether you want to be a core influencer or just enjoy the piece as an outsider, this production allows you to do that. You can immerse yourself as much as you want and you are encouraged to be part of the story, however, if you want to sit at the bar and spend your money on wine or beer, then this is also absolutely fine.
So, what is this piece about?
It’s 1940 and Britain’s darkest hour, as I arrived at the Colab Factory I was welcomed and presented with an identity card by longstanding Colab practitioner Peter Dewhurst. Dewhurst is portraying Douglas Remington-Hobbs, a master of ceremonies so to speak. He sets the scene for each audience member and then guides them through the next 2 hours and 15 minutes of action. His role in the production is very much like that of chess master playing his opposition on a chess board, strategically moving each pawn and knight to change the actions and direction of the piece. He does this superbly well, his characterisation is on-point, his ability to control the audience is admirable and so is the way in which he is able to encourage us to forget our inhibitions and join in.
Here it is paramount to mention that this is not a fully scripted piece. Each of our tremendous cast has a fully worked out character background, which they stick to throughout the evening, however, the direction, action and outcome of the piece are truly dependent on the audience. It is also worth noting that you do NOT have to be a war historian or a politics aficionado to enjoy the piece. The production has been created to embrace all levels of knowledge and encourage self-expression and party debate. Essentially no two performances will ever be the same and this is one of the most attractive elements of the piece.
The professional cast is small in number with only 8 performers, all of whom are rather splendid (to use the language of 1940). Each person held their character and came together as an ensemble and expertly guided the audience members throughout. At no point did anyone fall out of character, which I would imagine can be quite tricky when you bring 24 audience members into a room and tell them it’s okay to act and speak as they choose when they want and how they want! Working in this way demands a very confident performer, a highly skilled actor who can be fluid and reactive with regard to their audience’s decision.
The performance space and costumes are brilliantly put together, and appear to be historically accurate too. The performance space has been designed so that you are free to navigate your own experience and not follow any directions as to where you stand, sit or experience this piece of theatre. Of course, the cast guide you, however, it is your choice if you would like to join in and experience this piece of pure immersive theatre.
Having been assigned my character, a Liberal MP for Bodmin, I was asked to complete my id card. We are asked to keep our ID card throughout the piece and we are allowed to choose our name and character. I rather boringly kept my real name, although others in attendance opted for Captains, Lords, Ladies and one audience member rather ingeniously adopted the persona of Lord Fuckit. From here the audience members enter the war-rooms, we are designated survivors and from here, we ‘steer the ship’.
Under the direction of Douglas Remington-Hobbs, the audience democratically vote for and assign characters, not unlike a murder mystery party. We collectively assign a Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Propaganda Minister for War and the Opposition. Throughout the piece we are asked to stick to our assigned political parties, however, whenever we are given the chance to vote, we, of course, can vote freely!
Next comes the genius. Whilst the audience of up to 24 and the stellar cast of 6 play out the events of one night in 1940, the Directors of the production, Owen Kingston and Tom Black are utilising their historical knowledge to work out the real and actual consequences of our actions. Will we win the war, or will our actions finally kill the reigning King, Edward VIII and bring down Lord Halifax succumbing Britain to a Germanic reign?
The production runs for 2 hours 15 and at each junction, there are twist and turns, red-herrings and real-time updates explaining the consequences of our actions. Ahead of each show different information is fed to the actors regarding the piece, this means that no two shows will be the same even if the same audience is there.
In essence, a wonderful piece of theatre, poignant, enjoyable and brilliantly cast. I’m going again and taking friends… Maybe I will see you there!
Review by Faye Stockley
It’s December 1940 and a Nazi invasion force has landed on the south coast of England.
For King & Country offers audiences a chance to immerse themselves in this gaming style experience where decisions taken in the bunker will shape the course of history!
Reinventing the wheel of immersive theatre, Parabolic Theatre present an escape room-like experience with a high level of interaction where the audience determine the direction and flow of the story.
For King & Country is an immersive theatre experience where every single night is different. The actors have no scripts, just a complete understanding of the alternative world they are creating aided by in-depth historical research. The audience are not just watching; at some point everyone will play the protagonist in one way or another.
For King & Country
Venue The Colab Factory, 84 Long Ln, London SE1 4AU
Performance Dates Wednesday 18th April – Sunday 10th June 2018
Running time 2 hours 15 minutes
Twitter @kingcountry_LDN, #forkingandcountry
Writer/Director Owen Kingston
Producers Eleanor Russo
Showrunner Lauren Reed
Christopher Styles Major Timothy Smythe
Edward Andrews Squadron Leader James Muir
Zoe Flint Flight Officer Elsie Harvey
Peter Dewhurst Douglas Remington-Hobbs
Michael Thomas Reverend William Sinclair
Lauren Reed Cousin Betty
Owen Kingston Captain Alan Howard, RN
The Colab Factory, 84 Long Lane, London SE1 4AU