Some immersive theatre has you following the actors from room to room. In some, you can choose your own path. In the most engaging shows, though, you’re part of the action – and it’s this space in which Schematic Theatre excels.
The rundown pub near Elephant and Castle was last seen in the outstanding Crooks 1926, in which it played the show’s gangster headquarters, a location which suited the show perfectly. In Viper Squad it represents a 1980’s New York police station, which requires a little more stretching of incredulity on the part of the audience.
You play a new recruit to the Viper Squad, an elite group of morally dubious special police agents, tasked with the problem of the criminal gang who have taken over a central Manhattan art gallery. If their demands aren’t met, they’ll set off electrical fires around the city.
The Chief was played on press night by Colab stalwart Tom Black (the intended actor was down with Covid), a cigar-chewing cop who bawls his orders and permits only a “Yes, Chief” as your response. After he outlines the case you can choose which of his cohorts to enrol with. You might go for James Dillon’s Miami Vice-inspired Sergeant Simmons – white-suited, sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Then there’s the Rambo-channeling Johnson (Josh McCormack), the bone-headed action man who’s not allowed access to the weapon store, or the tech wizard Poindexter, played by the entertainingly perky Maddie O’Brien.
During the course of the evening you might learn to disarm a gunman, which could prove to be a useful technique when the chief suspect (a slinky Ellen Fry) holds you at gunpoint. You might choose the weapons to kit out a remote control robot; you could be piecing together clues to determine the leader of the criminal gang. You might have to decide where to send your limited fire-fighting resources. And you might just end up having to help defuse a bomb.
Where Crooks 1926 was viscerally engrossing, Viper Squad is played for laughs. Written by James Dillon, who plays Simmons, it started during lockdown as an online participatory show, and has transitioned to live theatre with wit, panache and a vast amount of enthusiasm. It’s surprising to experience the real thrill of a car chase played out with toy cars on a drawn map, with the remote driver calling in over an intercom.
Viper Squad is a hugely entertaining, fun-packed experience that makes immersive theatre truly engaging. Participation is mandatory: if you’re a shrinking wallflower then this isn’t for you – but if you’re prepared to roll your sleeves up to the elbows, barge in with your padded shoulder pads and join in the excitement then you’ll have a great time.
Written by: James Dillon
Directed by: David Alwyn
Assistant Performance Director: Rachel Waring
Produced by: Elsie Watkinson
Adapted from Viper Squad, an online immersive show written by James Dillon, directed by David Alwyn and Sid Phoenix and produced by CtrlAltRepeat.
Viper Squad is booking until 27 March via the link below.