‘An engrossing immersive experience’: FLICKER – Colab Tavern, London (review)

In Features, Native, Reviews by Justin Murray

COLAB have done it again with Flicker, an engrossing, sometimes unsettling, immersive experience that makes for an evening’s entertainment that feels appropriate for the time of year, and the times we find ourselves living in. 

We the participants have, we are told, been summoned here to assist Reverend Parks (Ben Chamberlain) (and his wayward niece Florence) in performing an exorcism on a spirit with lethal powers over the place. A curse is on the male line of the family. A child’s life, we are told, is at stake. Our job is to sift through the evidence to discover what happened to Elizabeth Kent, clear the name of her convicted husband John York, and venture down into the cellar to collect items which will ensure a successful exorcism. But can we uncover the truth before the lights go out…

Flicker follows from the success of a similar offering last year, Silence, which featured most of the same mechanics (with the addition of a scare actor – less possible in the current climate). Household pairs are given different mysteries to solve and evidence to analyse in search of the truth: from across our parlour, we are required to pool our discoveries in order to move forward. New clues are added into the mix at the facilitator’s discretion. Pairs are also, in turn, sent down to the dark and scary basement to look for further clues, meaning an audience experience alternates enjoyably between puzzle-solving and survival horror.

We have to work together to bridge the gaps between us, all contributing our clues into the mix, in order to solve the mystery and get closer to unlocking the finale. When this works, it’s deeply satisfying, and as I look around, I see the group get into the game: my fellow audience members, a mixed bunch though we are, unite in solving our knowledge and seeing how others’ discoveries match up to our own.

While it’s perhaps not for the faint of heart – it doubles down on themes of abuse and family trauma – there’s also much-needed moments of comedy here. Much of Chamberlain’s patter and interaction with us keeps things light and comical, while the cellar level with its layered soundscape is truly creepy. What would in less capable hands feel like tonal inconsistency feels here like playing the line well between camp and serious. And while I was sometimes left rather befuddled, Chamberlain keeps the whole thing moving brilliantly, uniting the nerdiest mystery-solver with the most fence-sitting novice (and coping with whatever harebrained suggestions we come up with). 

The company have clearly taken every precaution to ensure that pods maintain social distancing between one another and that masks are worn when out of seats at all times. 

Horror in a pandemic is a complicated phenomenon: this doesn’t feel like standard Hallowe’en fare. There’s so much horror in the regular world at the moment that content like this comes pre-loaded with additional significance. A search for connection is the dominant theme here: 

Connection with our actor-hosts and fellow audience-members, despite the obstacles of visors, masks, and social distancing; connection to the spirit who haunts the place. In this sense, the subject matter of Flicker feels rather appropriate to the time and circumstances we find ourselves bound by. It can seem overcomplicated at times – there’s certainly more plot bouncing around than in last year’s Silence – but fans of mystery and puzzle games will enjoy the amount of intrigue and clue-sifting. There’s something here for everyone, though, and it’s well worth your time. 

Justin Murray on InstagramJustin Murray on Twitter
Justin Murray
Justin Murray is a director and theatremaker whose work has been seen nationally and internationally. He recently directed The Wizard Of Oz at The Scoop in More London Riverside as part of London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season. Justin was associate director of Actors of Dionysus for whom he directed Antigone (R&D and national tour). Justin is artistic director of Catharsis and has directed their previous five shows, Hippolytus (Hope Theatre), Hecuba (White Bear Theatre), purged (Brighton Fringe), The Complete Greek Tragedies (In One Hour) (Rosemary Branch) and Ashurbanipal (The Crypt Gallery). As associate director: FILTH (Camden Fringe) and Rounds (Southwark Playhouse / Bolton Octagon). Other work includes Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Assisting includes Helen for Actors of Dionysus, The Odyssey at More London Riverside, and The Cherry Orchard at The Union Theatre (both for Phil Wilmott).

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Justin Murray on InstagramJustin Murray on Twitter
Justin Murray
Justin Murray is a director and theatremaker whose work has been seen nationally and internationally. He recently directed The Wizard Of Oz at The Scoop in More London Riverside as part of London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season. Justin was associate director of Actors of Dionysus for whom he directed Antigone (R&D and national tour). Justin is artistic director of Catharsis and has directed their previous five shows, Hippolytus (Hope Theatre), Hecuba (White Bear Theatre), purged (Brighton Fringe), The Complete Greek Tragedies (In One Hour) (Rosemary Branch) and Ashurbanipal (The Crypt Gallery). As associate director: FILTH (Camden Fringe) and Rounds (Southwark Playhouse / Bolton Octagon). Other work includes Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Assisting includes Helen for Actors of Dionysus, The Odyssey at More London Riverside, and The Cherry Orchard at The Union Theatre (both for Phil Wilmott).