If you visit the King William IV pub, near Elephant and Castle, you’ll find it closed down long ago. But CoLab Theatre wind the building back to 1926 and we find it’s the headquarters of the McDonald gang, whose criminal exploits range from everything to safe-cracking to race fixing. You join brothers Wag and Wal as they convene the gang to mourn the death of their father, kingpin Robert McDonald, who died in suspicious circumstances – and whose coffin lies in state in the pub basement.
There are two kinds of immersive theatre. The most usual sort is where the action takes place around you, often in multiple locations, and you watch as a passive observer. Crooks 1926 falls firmly into the second camp: you’re not just an audience member but an active participant. As members of the McDonald gang you have to help them pursue their nefarious acts, and time is running out. Rival gang boss Sabini needs £10,000 by the next day, and he’s not a man you let down lightly.
Unlike my last immersive outing, Crisis, What Crisis?, here you’re not committed to any one area of activity. You might find yourself helping to plan a robbery, or negotiating over the phone with getaway drivers, cut-throats, locksmiths and lamp-lighters (setting fire to a thatched roof can be a good way of distracting security guards). You might end up bribing or threatening jockeys to throw a race, or to spice up their horse’s activity with cocaine.
Whatever activities you choose to engage in, you’ll be an integral part of the action as the story unfolds around you. You might even find you’ve been selected to be an undercover mole for the rival Sabini, required to steal money and otherwise help his attempted takeover of the gang. Of course, this degree of involvement isn’t for everyone: on press night a journalist from The Sun gave up and left after ten minutes.
But if you choose to stick it out you’re in for a rollercoaster evening of thrilling entertainment. You’ll witness a wedding of convenience, a perfectly choreographed bare-knuckle fight, and scenes of betrayal and intrigue – with a nail-biting finale. All the action takes place in four evocative, period rooms in the old pub, with ready access to the fully stocked bar at all times should you be in need of a pick-me-up.
The show is directed by Bertie Watkins, who manages the seemingly impossible task of keeping multiple threads of action perfectly synchronised. The seven-strong cast remain perfectly in character throughout: Angus Woodward and Simon Pothecary are the flat-capped, rough-diamond brothers, with Tom Black as the game master and the melodious Holli Dixon as moll Alice Diamon. Producer Ben Chamberlain also takes multiple roles as a Scottish vicar, a corrupt Irish policeman, a rogue Lord and the foppish son of a Manchester gang lord.
For over two and a half hours you’ll be fully involved in the story, taking life and death decisions as you help the McDonald brothers achieve supremacy in gangland London. Full of humour, tension and intrigue, Crooks 1926 raises immersive theatre to new levels.
Directed by: Bertie Watkins
Produced by: CoLab Theatre
Booking until: 29 March 2020
Booking Link: https://www.colabtheatre.co.uk/crooks-2