I don’t think anyone at this time last year would have thought that live theatre going would still be on the back burner, but we are where we are. Such a protracted business has it been that I’ve now made more than one and sometimes several visits to online companies; it has been fascinating to see their development and how they have got to grips with the new technology.
One such company is the ingenious CtrlAltRepeat who I first encountered last July with their show Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Symmetric Mailshot. Since then, I have made three more visits, to two iterations of their OnComm award-winning show Viper Squad and Viper Squad Remastered and, now to their latest play The Temporal Society. As with all their pieces this is a highly interactive romp requiring quick thinking, an ability to laterally problem solve and interact with cast and fellow audience members, though you are also perfectly welcome to just sit and watch and communicate through the chat.
The company seems to like taking us back in time and in this show we are in the late Victorian era – at least to start with. 1894 to be precise when scientific pioneer Arabella Bellafonte and her more than able assistant Martha Scott are presenting a learned paper on time travel and demonstrating their new invention the Chronocular. They demonstrate its power by changing the course of a minor event based on a story in a contemporary newspaper and there’s a Q and A session in which the audience quiz them about their breakthrough. Asking what they should bring with them if they travel to our present, we tell them to make sure they have masks and hand sanitiser and to get hold of a mobile phone as soon as they arrive.
But then a member of the gathered audience goes missing and the hunt is on to get her back. This involves some nifty use of a website – The Beautiful Oddity (i.e., a Victorian version of Wikipedia) where clues are seeded through the various articles to be discovered and brought to the attention of the team. It begins to seem as if the disappearance may not have been quite the accident it was portrayed and the restitution of order becomes even more imperative. And so, we travel back to 1605, 1815 and even forwards to 2148 in a race against time itself to restore everything to “normality”. Teamwork comes to the fore as we interact with Shakespeare, Wellington and Joan of Arc (among others) to repair the fabric of time.
Rebekah Finch and Rachel Waring make a delightful pairing as the Victorian inventors and guide the audience (with quite a few nudges in the right direction) towards solving the problem. Waring gives Scott a particularly endearing puppyish enthusiasm for discovering the delights of 2021 including the astonishing revelation that the sum total of human knowledge can all be found in one place on a thing called the Internet (“How big ARE your libraries?”) A more basic set up of pen and paper comes in handy and there is much discussion of the communication power which resides in eggs (appropriate on Easter Day, I suppose). At one point I found myself rushing off to my cutlery drawer to bring back a required item – I promise that all this makes sense at the time.
Perhaps I was feeling a bit brain dead last night (too many eggs of the chocolate variety?), but I thought the pace slightly more frenetic than in previous shows and occasionally found it difficult to keep up. This was partly the fault of The Beautiful Oddities entries because I found myself trying to absorb some really interesting stuff rather than skim reading to search out the clues; there has been such obvious care taken with constructing the website. I’d forgotten that a link to this is sent with your participation invitation so my advice would be to wait until after the show to do this. I think there would also be some benefit in more heavily signposting this aspect of the production to participants as it was a little easy to miss that is where we should have gone for clues.
The team have also branched out this time round with the inclusion of some filmed inserts woven smoothly into the live show. Directors Sid Phoenix and David Alwyn have delivered the goods once again and provided a mind blowing evening which more than stimulates “the little grey cells”. The show plays on Sunday evenings until mid-May while Viper Squad Remastered also continues on Fridays – just two more shows left, so hurry. The current show will particularly appeal to fans of Victorian adventure fiction as embodied by writers such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Oh , and whatever you do, don’t exit while the credits roll past or you’ll miss a fairly vital element which suggests there may be more to come in the future ….. whatever that may hold!