In COLAB Theatre’s new immersive horror experience Echoes you join the Reverend Jane Parks, a bubbly, somewhat gauche Anglican vicar, enthusiastically played by Emily Jane Kerr. She explains that the building in which you’re sitting was once owned by the proprietors of the neighbouring Menier Chocolate Factory, and was the site of four unexplained deaths a hundred years go. A malevolent spirit still haunts the building: it’s up to you to discover the identities and causes of the mystery deaths, and then to find out the identity of the spirit in order to exorcise it.
The audience is split into four small groups, and each table is given a single victim to explore. Through newspaper cuttings, photographs and other pieces of ephemera, you spend the next two and a half hours piecing together the clues which will reveal your goal.
Part of the evening involves searching clues in nearby streets, together with a map and a smartphone link that reveals audio excerpts when you get close. Except the link doesn’t always work; a backup option is to scan the QR codes at each location.
The real test, however, comes when you and your teammates have to make several visits to the basement of the building, wherein lurks the spirit. The room is in pitch darkness, and you explore it only with the aid of a tiny torch. A haunting, evocative soundtrack by Ben Chamberlain and Danny Romeo makes the experience feel even more real.
Venturing into this unknown environment is scary enough in itself, but the real shocker comes when you’re assailed by the sudden appearance of the spirit screaming in your ear. He’s played with tremendous gusto by Robert Rhodes, covered in gory makeup and with the uncanny ability to suddenly materialise out of nowhere. It takes real nerve to go into this haunted space a second, or even a third time.
The clues are cunningly interwoven, often obscure, and frankly rather too difficult to decipher unaided. Fortunately the church warden, Mr Hooks, is constantly on hand to point you in the right direction. He’s inventively played by Christopher Styles, whose talent for improvisation means he’s never at a loss for an answer to even the most off-the-wall questions. Reverend Parks provides useful guidance throughout, her terror at the existence of the ghost greatly enhanced by an unplanned nosebleed on press night.
Echoes is an entertaining, intricately plotted and genuinely scary show. Immersive theatre is rarely so terrifying.
Written by: Ben Chamberlain and Danny Romeo
Directed by: Danny Romeo
Produced by: COLAB Theatre
Echoes is playing at COLAB House, Southwark, until 27 November.