In my second visit Basic Space, I not only watched but got to take part in The Contemptible Case of Charles Peace, an new immersive piece of theatre from Broken Stereo. Pushing the boundaries of immersive theatre, Director Daniel James Thompson brings a modern twist to the murder-mystery style of storytelling. This is a genre which can sometimes come off as hammy and cheesy. But through impressive set dressing, a strong cast and unique reinvention, the delivery is slick and I was hooked! Though the narrative is a tad over complicated at points.
All the shows playing at Basic Space are site-sensitive theatre, inspired by and reacting to the space: two safehouses in Peckham. Broken Stereo take their inspiration from not only the space but a real story: the life of criminal Charles Peace. The audience then become would be investigators, trying to solve a series of puzzles to reveal the secrets that lie hidden in the house and its past. And present…
I’ve been to a few immersive style experiences, but none like this. Broken Stereo are committed to ‘creating worlds that envelope and immerse audiences through interactive experiences‘. And the world they create in these four walls is wholly palpable. The detail gone in to the set dressing is incredible: the once empty space is transformed, with hanging letters, strewn papers and all manner of strange objects creating a convincing crime scene. The audience are immediately immersed in the dramatic world as soon as they step through the door, thanks to actors Alex Storti and Jane Hibbs who play detectives overseeing us would-be recruits. They themselves are so immersed in the story that you can’t help but be drawn in to, as they lead you through the twists and turns. Their dynamic not only with each other, but individual members of the audience is wholly believable. And slightly intimidating! But in a good way!
My only critique would be the narrative journey. Moving from room to room you are able to interact with a number of puzzles, leaving your findings for the next team to continue. But in the constant moving we felt like we lost the overall narrative and how it corresponded with certain puzzles. The other slight note would be the ending. While I like how the narrative progressed in the final minutes, I would have like to see how it all culminated. Why didn’t we? ‘Exploring with ideas of game-play narrative, [Broken Stereo] try to create video-game-style worlds in which the story only reveals itself to those who play the game correctly‘. As it turns out, we did not play the game correctly! So we did not get the full ending. I appreciate the move towards a video game style mode of play, where an ending is determined and changed by an audience’s decisions. I would love to see more of this in theatre and I feel that Broken Stereo are taking the first steps in this brave new world. But I would have liked more of a sense of an ending: even just taking people off to another room in the house so they got an ending, rather than abruptly kicking us out!
Verdict: an immersive experience from start to finish from Broken Stereo, who are taking bold steps into a new, revolutionary genre of theatre and storytelling.
The Contemptible Case of Charles Peace is playing until 21st February 2016 at Basic Space Festival in Peckham. For more information about the production and to book tickets, visit the Basic Space website. For more information about Broken Stereo and their work, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.