For its delayed tenth anniversary, the VAULT Festival once again transforms the heart of Waterloo into a stage for fringe theatre makers. And not far from its main space, an ominous container titled the Void has been turned into an immersive stage for Chronic Insanity’s All Falls Down. The show relies on the principle of a popular interactive escape game. The audience is told the circumstances in which they find themselves and are given the ability to make decisions. Verbally, by instructing the narrator, the audience explores the world their experience is set in and impacts the unfolding events with their actions.
Gathered in a group of approximately ten people, the audience experiences the storyline together and gets to decide in unison on the decisions that shall be made. In the centre of the narrow container stands the show’s narrator and guide (Joe Strickland). With calm and monotone articulation, he explains the premise of the adventure and invites the audience to interact with each other to decide on actions.
Invited to their friend Sarah’s birthday party, the audience – a group of friends who had met at university – embarks on a holiday to celebrate. The birthday girl has recently acquired a pilot license and offers to shuttle the group to their designated location somewhere past a forest. However, soon after, the audience is told that they have just survived a plane crash (of which they have no memory) and now need to figure out how to survive in the wilderness. And, mysteriously, Sarah has disappeared into the woods and is nowhere to be found.
The adventure is illustrated on a small table in the middle of the space that has been decorated with miniature trees and the remains of a plane wreck, scattered across the mossy surface. Towering over the landscape is a pile of Jenga bricks stacked on top of each other. And occasionally one lucky audience member with a hunch for survival gets to pull a brick out of the construction and hope that the tower does not collapse. The point of this exercise never becomes clear as nothing changes once the tower has toppled. When one would expect the story to be over, or the big reveal to occur upon the tumbling of the bricks, the narrator keeps the story going.
In fact, Strickland’s presence in the room does not add much to the experience itself. His solemn delivery of hard facts and the objective unravelling of events fails to set the eerie mood that the immersive experience would need. Aside from picking up the audience’s instructions and opening the space up for a strung-out game of Jenga, his narration could have easily been delivered from one of the dark corners in the container – and given the audience an idea of the solitary feeling their characters are experiencing.
When the adventure comes to an abrupt and unsatisfactory end, one can’t help but wonder whether it is due to the devised nature of the semi-interactive experience, or a lack of ideas towards the end of the creative process.
All Falls Down reminds of a virtual lockdown escape game save for the fact that fellow players are not viewed through a computer screen.
Review: Shirley Both