COVID and the various lockdowns have seen a massive amount of innovation in what would traditionally have been site-specific immersive events, escape games and other forms of interactive entertainment and has included some performances specifically created for online / remote enjoyment. I’ve been personally fortunate to enjoy loads of great shows, though I haven’t reviewed them all as they weren’t traditionally horror or scare related.
Of particular note were ANTS Theatre’s absolutely amazing and utterly bonkers ‘We Still Fax’ where a fully functioning ‘interdimensional’ fax machine with attachments were sent through the UK postal system to help people in another dimension and their problems. Having to interact with this technological marvel and the much needed live help-desk over the phone was truly unique and wonderfully executed. Will definitely keep a track on what they conjure up next, and I can’t emphasise enough how amazing it was to conduct a whole show through an antiquated piece of authentic technology enhanced with a few voice calls to the actors. Completely different to anything else I’ve done and all the better for it given the superb execution.
Swamp Motel’s Plymouth Point trilogy was also amazing and another superbly acted and executed mix of online escape game and online treasure hunt. All three episodes were great and my only incredibly minor complaint is on my side as I did them out of order. All three could satisfyingly be done individually, but all of them worked incredibly with the overarching narrative. We also thoroughly enjoyed their latest free production tied in to the recent release of Amazon Prime’s ‘Panic’. Based on the storyline from the show, it gave us the same fun gameplay, but in a slightly more real world mystery of a missing high-school student.
Phoenix Tears Productions
Orlando based Phoenix Tears Productions entertained with their latest remote show in their ‘Recovery’ series, ‘Posthumous’. It took me into the role of a new employee at a company that was trying to piece together the events of the nearly deceased and the possibility of uploading their consciousness to an artificial afterlife. Superb acting and great narrative coupled with a good amount of audience interaction and agency made this one really memorable.
We reviewed Redemption Room, but at the same time we also participated in Messy Theater’s ‘A Fate Worse than Death’. Both have similarities in their popularity contests played out over social media narrative, however AFWTD felt more complete for us. The level of interaction and genuine agency was superb. The acting was amazing and we’d have to get a calculator out to work out the possible number of endings this could have had. Two of us did this on different dates and got very different outcomes and I’m still seeing social media updates from some of the characters well beyond the end of the show’s run.
I also participated in Blackheart Collective’s ‘Ghosts’ remote performance mostly played over Discord. This was a week-long event and deeply and personally affecting event, and for that reason only, doesn’t have a longer review.. Keeping spoiler free this was one of the most ‘horrific’ events I did, not in a scary way, but they really set out to get under your skin in a meaningful and ultimately cathartic way. Long roleplay style events are clearly not my cup of tea, but I can’t commend the team enough for their creativity, acting and sheer dedication to this event. If this style of performance is for you then I’d highly recommend giving them a go, and if I’m ever in the area, then I’ll definitely be checking them out for an in person performance.
Back in lockdown 1, I went through Riptide’s ‘Project Intimacy’ which was a week long guided Whatsapp based experience with another matched participant. We were given daily tasks or suggestions for conversations to be completed over the week. It was fun, but a bit unfulfilling for myself and my partner, though I understand other matches had much more rewarding experiences. Riptide also did an online only run of ‘The Lucky Ones’. I did it solo, but it can also be completed with up to a team of 4. It starts really well with something arriving for you through the post and over the course of 7 days there are interaction over Whatsapp as well as puzzles to be solved online, including one particularly well executed and enjoyable extended scene towards the end. Sadly I felt it fell a bit flat right at the end, with the pay off not having the impact of the previous days actions and no real consequence to my actions narratively. That aside it was a really well put together piece and I’d love to be able to do the ‘real life’ version of it at some point.
If you enjoyed Darkfield’s Radio series then you’d probably also enjoy Wiretapper’s ‘Safe…’. It used the same binaural app technology to produce a superbly immersive soundscape and for this performance a much more ‘real world’, and less supernatural narrative than any of Darkfield’s Series One. Another superb, short experience and one that I’ll happily keep an eye on for future performances
Parabolic Theatre, a long-standing stalwart of interactive theatre in London turned their hands to House of Cenci, a tour de force of interactive mixed media theatre / game. The performance took place over three weeks with a combination of free ‘at convenience’ browser and mostly text based puzzles and narrative to be unlocked, coupled with weekly paid for, actor led, Zoom events to push the experience and story further. This was my first Parabolic event and as I interacted with the growing community of participants, mostly over Discord, it was clear that there was a rich and deep meta story across all the company’s events as well as the timelines of the main House of Cenci story. The story started with the original Italian tragedy and leaned heavily on the Artaudian almost Theatre of Cruelty adaptation, but went way beyond that. Despite the horrific elements of the origin it felt a bit light on ‘horror’ for me. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging in a way that no other remote performance I’ve experienced could match and massively looking forward to Parabolic’s first new live event post lockdown ‘Threshold’ later in June.
All the above had elements of horror, especially so in their narratives, but none of them felt that they were out there to scare. Unnerve, unsettle, sure, but not scare. Obaken’s ‘If Musebiya’ on the other hand was full out set to scare. Narratively I was joined by some random other guests from the USA, as two Japanese girls gave a virtual tour of the house that one of them used to live in. Unfortunately for our tour guides one of the current inhabitants wasn’t quite all there, and we were subjected to an interactive, but ‘lite’ on escape room style puzzles, of their experiences with the murderous psychopath and glimpses of the murderer’s historic actions with the other residents. The effects were really well executed and acted and I’m glad we managed to get the good ending, as I’m sure given what we saw throughout that the bad endings would have been absolutely horrific. Hats off to the Obaken team. I’ll happily try any future remote experiences and if I’m ever fortunate to be there in person.
Ctrl, Alt, Repeat
Ctrl, Alt, Repeat ran a remastered version of their ‘Viper Squad’ online show which was an entertaining and nostalgic trip back to 80’s era action movies. Using Zoom Viper Squad was a fun mission based interactive group event that was really well executed and acted and spot on for taking you back to the 80’s
In a similar vein and with the same writer as Viper Squad, Siren took us into deep space to help salvage a stricken spaceship. Another enjoyable Zoom based group choose your own adventure style experience. It was again well produced and acted with some fun humour to alleviate the tension. Narratively it had some nice touches with some call backs to plot points from Alien and Aliens.