[You can hear our podcast interview with the creative team talking about The West here.]
First, a confession. Upon arriving at The West, I sought out the sheriff to turn myself in. I had accidentally (I swear!) committed a crime against the residents of The West. You see, I have been here before. I sought shelter from a vicious sandstorm and the residents had been kind enough to save me. Regretfully, I repaid this kindness with – theft. I borrowed some dynamite but neglected to return it. While the sheriff was pleased to recover the explosive and chose not to jail me, I was sent to confess and seek absolution from Father Francis.
Okay, so here is what actually happened. CoLab was nice enough to invite ET to review The West a couple of weeks ago. But an accident meant they’d lost prep time, and the show just wasn’t ready. Director Bertie Watkins kindly invited us to come back to witness the show again in a finished state. On my first visit, one of my tasks was to assemble some dynamite and next morning I found that I still had a small prop sitting on my desk. Oops.
As you arrive at Olverton, you’ll be warmly greeted by the Mayor (Grace Dunne), her husband, the Sheriff (Owen Jenkins) and their preacher son Francis (Sam Skoog). A terrible sandstorm has just passed. The residents want to hear what you lost, how you managed to survive the storm. They’ll invite you to immerse yourself as much or as little as you like. Watch for Federal Marshal (Chris Keegan, in the first of several roles: his turn as the judge is a clear highlight) to arrive and begin to drive the story forward.
The West benefits from fine actors who think on their feet, taking participants along on a journey. Each brings a lot to their character, happy to take anything the audience throws at them and having fun doing it. If a participant comes up with an idea they will riff on it and maybe even return to it later.
A lot of thought has gone into the space at CoLab Tavern and the story makes use of every nook and cranny. We move down to the basement cells, and it feels natural because the story leads it: we aren’t moved for the sake of it. Watkins’ direction expertly lets the participants see the full set even if their part of the story is focused in just one section, and moves the show along at a fast pace.
The script is fun and funny. It does overly rely on town meetings to bring the story forward but the main set pieces are well written, keeping everyone involved. When we all come together in a hail of bullets (yes, you get a gun!), the story comes to an unexpected and intriguing ending. I won’t say more – other than to note I immediately looked back over the evening and thought ‘of course’ – a sign of the high quality of the script and production.
Having now visited The West twice, I have still not experienced it all. I have helped to rebuild the town, have found clues and solved riddles. I’ve been a deputy, caught bandits, interrogated nefarious characters in a cell and – of course – I’ve relied on my trusty six shooter for a full-on gunfight. But I haven’t been a bandit, I haven’t seen the inside of the cell and I haven’t managed to get into the locked room.
Let me end with a tip: if something isn’t working or you feel uninvolved, talk to an actor. Tell the Sheriff you have spotted a bandit, suggest to the Mayor you have an idea to rebuild the town. One attendee invented the role of a travelling preacher and took to the pulpit. I do think this tip should be included in the pre-show talk to guide people who might be at their first immersive event.
Next time, I’m gonna be a bandit – watch out Olverton, I’m coming for you all guns blazing!
Written by: Bertie Watkins, Ben Chamberlain, Charlotte Potter and the Company
Directed by: Bertie Watkins
Produced by: Colab Theatre
The West plays at Co Lab Factory until 1 October 2022. Further information and bookings can be found here.