One of the trends in online theatre over the last six months has been the rise of the interactive puzzle solving genre. These include escape room situations, treasure hunts and inevitably murder mysteries. I’ve already attended a couple of the latter so had a fair idea of what to expect when I participated in Sherlock In Homes from the Sharp Teeth Company based in Bristol and accessible through their own company website and through the city’s Old Vic Theatre. As this is subtitled Case File #1: Murder at the Circus I assume there will be other scenarios in development for future production.
In this interactive game the audience is (collectively) Conan Doyle’s great detective called in to The Bearded Lady’s Circus Of Wonder by the baffled police to investigate a classic locked room mystery they have been unable to solve. Or, rather, locked cage mystery for the murder victim is Bubbles the Clown whose dead body has been discovered lying next to Henry, the lion. Briefed initially by Inspector LeShart the facts of the case are set out and the police’s initial findings are shared.
Assisted by the unseen but impressively organised Taggart, the Inspector then splits the participants into teams in order to interview five suspects including Rory McPride the lion tamer himself and various others of the circus acts such as the Bearded Lady circus owner, Natasha Whiskers and the constantly veiled fortune teller Fortuna Kukay. After round one of interviews the audience votes on whodunnit. More clues are shared and then the interview sequence is repeated before a second final vote is recorded. The mystery is then revealed.
The fun in this sort of thing isn’t so much the script which in this case was built up from an idea by Peter Baker (also playing the Inspector and, possibly another role) and then worked up by the entire cast into the finished product. For by its nature this is a washing line from which the improvisational pegs are hung.
Rather the pleasure lies in watching half a dozen brains quickly scramble to come up with answers to what can be some pretty left field questions from the audience, while attempting to plant clues – but not so many as to give the game away early – stay in character and generally keep things moving. In this the team (Stephanie Kempson, Alice Lamb, Rachel Procter-Lane, Andrew Kelly and Eleanor Nawal) were pretty successful. I saw the early show, so attention was also being paid to the relative youth of some of the participants – I’m not sure where the more adult versions travel to! The Zoom platform generally behaved itself as we were moved from room to room during the interviews and my notebook soon filled up with scribbled reminders and points on which to follow up. As a workout for the brain it certainly exercised the “little grey cells”.
I’m glad to say I got the solution partly right but as it was one of those situations where all the suspects had motives and opportunity it was never going to be straightforward. Along the way as well as the murder we discovered a background of mutual enmity, personal revenge and financial chicanery so there was plenty to be revealed. In true murder mystery style we had a great time getting to the solution and it looked like the cast did too. My top tip? Keep an eye on the map – it’s elementary!