Ihave long bought into the immersive theatre craze, from a middling Minotaur performance in Bermondsey’s biscuit factory, to a rather fun exploration of King’s College London and Somerset House in DreamThinkSpeak’s In the Beginning was The End and Punch Drunk’s epic Drowned Man. But an overnight performance of Macbeth still came across somewhat daunting. 12 straight hours, could I handle that?! Well, with tickets from as little as £20 for a hard package (though I paid double that for the ‘Luxury’) in which you get dinner, a night’s accommodation, plus the show itself, compared to the astronomical prices of other immersive ventures *cough*secret cinema*cough* I figured I’d give it a go.
And I am very glad I did, though the sleepover gimmick felt just like that – a gimmick, the location, an imposing East London tower block, and the very talented cast kept me entertained throughout. Unlike other immersive performances I’ve seen, I am happy to say that this wasn’t a loose or symbolic reinterpretation, the play was there, in its entirety.
It starts with a passport check, as we get ready to enter a fictional Eastern European country named Borduria, its occupants, speaking with suspiciously Borat-like accents, serving as our guides into Macbeth’s fictional world. A concept that I wasn’t entirely sold on, as it seemed to add an unnecessary complication to the set up. Our phones are checked in, our pounds exchanged with Bordurian currency and our bags taken away from us.
The action begins immediately after, as we find ourselves in the middle of Macbeth and Banquo’s encounter with the witches in a dark and seriously spooky underground space. The moment is wonderful, and for me only matched in intensity by Macbeth’s decent into madness during the banquet scene and his second encounter with the witches. A good thing as it almost successfully distracts from the actual meal we are given, which includes a botched attempt at a borscht soup, probably one of the worst things I have ever tasted. (On the flip side, they were great with giving us water throughout and the drinks are a decent price, but I gotta say if you are staying overnight, bring snacks.) The final scene on the roof and the immediate build up to it, which I do not want to spoil is similarly tense as are a few breaks from the plot where the murderers get involved with the audience that feel truly frightening. Those are the moments where you know it’s not real, but you don’t quite believe it.
It’s not all great. A large part of the final act conveyed as ‘Breaking News’ via a flickering TV set is a major low point, and despite the advertised ‘all night’ set up, the action ends comfortably around midnight. After which, cast and audience alike congregates in the bar to spend the remainder of their hard earned Bordurian cash.
But despite its flaws, I had a pretty magical evening, which is hard to explain. It was perhaps aided by my lack of phone, i.e. any connection to the outside world, but at times I felt like I was truly transported to another land, where anything was possible.
I found out after that there are multiple casts looking after multiple groups, which must be a logistical nightmare and meant tightly timed toilet breaks, but was flawlessly executed as we not once crossed paths with anyone else. And I may be biased, but I think we lucked out with the best cast, Lowri James’ lady Macbeth and Humphrey Hardwicke’s Macbeth were both spectacular.
Other things to note:
- Look out for the updated king’s portraits
- Getting picked out as a murderer’s favourite is not a good idea
- Be aware of nightly apparitions