“You will be the judge and executioner” promises the publicity for Redemption Room, which bills itself as an immersive online thriller experience. And the setup looks promising enough: six sinful ‘celebrities’ from around the world have each agreed to take part in an online trial. If they win, a quarter of a million dollars is their prize. And if they lose – well, the penalty isn’t explicitly stated.
Each of them hides a guilty secret. The former politician in London shoots big game; the comedian in Sydney tells racist jokes; the social influencer in Hong Kong filmed herself dancing on the imaginary grave of Donald Trump, and so on. Each of them also has a specific fear: spiders, ouija boards, Russian roulette, clowns.
So far, so promising. The show kicks off with an introduction from Rex Shakespeare (a gung-ho Christopher Killick), seen sprawling in a courtroom, but more gameshow host than judge. He spends five minutes introducing the show and explaining the rules, before spending another five minutes chatting with a few members of the audience (“Where are you from? London! Wow!”). Ten minutes in, and nothing has happened.
Then it’s on to interviewing each of the celebrities in his or her glamorous location (the Australian comic is lazily floating in his swimming pool, the drug-taking Olympic medallist swans around her New York mansion). Except the audience doesn’t quiz each celebrity on their misdeeds – Rex Shakespeare does, after which an audience poll determines if they should be redeemed or condemned.
The main attraction of online immersive theatre is that it’s not just passive viewing: you should feel involved in the proceedings, be able to compare notes with your fellow audience members, and have at least the illusion that you’re able to influence the outcome. But here, the interaction is at a minimum. You get to vote in a poll for each celebrity, but as these are along the lines of “Who thinks hunting of endangered animals should be penalised criminally?” there’s really only one possible answer.
You can chat to your fellow audience members, although you can’t see them, but there’s nothing to discuss, as all the celebrities are plainly as guilty as hell. So the pointless chat comes down to “Eek! I’m scared already!” and “Yeah, her dress is so cool”.
After forty minutes of celebrity probing and inane polls I was, frankly, bored. Then, suddenly, the action kicks in, and the last 20 minutes is a flurry of gruesome despatching of the participants. With the melodrama dial turned up to 11, you witness a genuinely shocking series of self-executions. It might not be Shakespeare, and it certainly isn’t subtle, but it pushes the limits of what theatre can reasonably be expected to portray.
The trouble is that the hour-long show spends two thirds of its showtime in repetitive, unconvincing and tedious setup. If I hadn’t been reviewing the show I’d have given up around the half hour mark – and would have missed all the gore that followed. The three-star rating is for Redemption Room redeemed by the enthusiasm of its ending; but for the first 40 minutes this is a two-star show at best.
Written and Directed by: Richard Crawford
Action Co-Ordination by: Alex Payne
Illusion Director: Filipe Carvalho
Costumes by: Jessica Alonso
Produced by: Secret Theatre
Redemption Room is currently booking until 13 March. Check website for further details.