“Alright Olivia, I’ll give you 60% of the American profits,” snarled Tommy Shelby.
“No! FIFTY-FOUR PERCENT!” I yell into his face and in front of the assembled crowd, before realising my fatal negotiating error and collapsing into heaps of giggles.
I can only blame my momentary lapse in mathematics on having got far too carried away in the underground world of dodgy dealings and backstabbing gangs that Immersive Everywhere has conjured up in London’s Camden Market. (The time I’d spent at the in-house bar chatting to Italian mafia agents also probably didn’t help.)
I’d been promised participation, and Peaky Blinders: The Rise definitely delivered. Where bigger immersive productions such as Secret Cinema might have dialled down the amount of meaningful co-creation that audience members can expect as their shows have scaled up, this reimagining of the hit TV series manages to set concurrent groups and individuals on their own path.
Just like Phantom Peak is pioneering open-world, gamified experiences over in Surrey Quays, PB: The Rise uses multiple storylines, subplots and characters to let audiences define their own experience. There are three possible narrative outcomes, meaning that both individual and collective decisions have an impact on the overall conclusion.
And whatever the finale, it manages to show its audiences a fookin’ good time. Here’s what I made of it.
What’s good about the experience?
- The crossing of the threshold once you were inside the building was managed really well. We transitioned from a small space where we came face-to-face with the iconic Alfie Solomons, into a bigger, emptier space where “the rules” of engagement were delivered in a fun, engaging, and crucially in-world way. Some people had definitely had a few drinks before we arrived and were very chatty, others were dressed up and raring to go, and others were more laidback, but the actors managed to control everyone’s behaviour and set the scene for the rest of the event.
- How much you wanted to interact felt very much up to you, making it an exciting rather than confronting experience. Beforehand we were told we could dress up like a Peaky Blinder, or come as we were. Inside, actors engaged us in conversation and amped up the interaction depending on our reactions – at one point I was asked if I was good at public speaking (yes, hence the above debacle) before being put on the spotlight. It was subtle and effective.
- The use of characters, music and plot points from the show was fantastic and accessible both to superfans and those (like me) who only knew the bare outline. The main “entrance” of the Shelby family got rapturous applause from those who clearly loved the show, but I had a blast watching it all unfold and didn’t feel left out. Meanwhile my date, who’d watched a lot more of the show, loved the attention to detail.
- The acting was fantastic – I witnessed an unexpectedly moving shellshock scene and adored the Alfie character, who had the accent down.
- There was a good balance of down time to hang out with your companions at the bar, time to roam and explore the sets individually or together, and peak collective moments where more of the storyline was revealed.
- The clever use of sets – there were only really two main spaces, but the way doors were closed and opened and different staging and lighting used reminded me of Punchdrunk, and how they can change the mood and function of a scene without adding more to it.
What could be improved?
- The anticipation stage – we did a pre-show quiz that placed us in a family, but this wasn’t really used once we were inside. The queuing experience was also a bit dismal – we were stood outside queuing for a while and other than being given some fake cash to use inside, there was no interaction or attempt to immerse us in the story until we were through the doors.
- There was some sort of gamification element going on with collecting money and making bets, but this was a bit lost on me – I didn’t really understand the mechanism, and I didn’t feel a sense of resolution or reward from the tasks we did take part in, even though they were great fun.
- The wider story was also a bit obscure. I got snatches, but didn’t really understand the finale – and without having been told beforehand that our actions could impact the outcome, I would have had no idea that this was the case. In Andrea Moccia’s Campfire, he explained how the winning team was clearly revealed at the end of the Arcane experience he worked on – something similar might have helped to clarify this here.
What elements do you like so much you’d like to use them in your work?
- Overall I think the strongest part of the experience was the way they managed different levels of interaction and fandom so that everyone felt comfortable, while also keeping control over a potentially very rowdy group of people!
- I also thought the use of music, lighting and actors to change the mood without relying on expensive props or multiple locations was clever and cost-effective.
If you’re in London and would like to try Peaky Blinders: The Rise for yourself, you can book tickets here. Performances run until 28 May 2023.