The Handbook
The Handbook

Well, this is exciting. This is the first review of anything I’ve done in quite some time (the recent Marmite piece doesn’t count). The thought of live theatre is flooding my mind with memories of the West End, interval ice creams and cocktails… all within an arm’s reach. We just have to be patient. And in the meantime there’s Zoom theatre.

I was a little dubious about the whole thing. How on earth can you pull off a credible theatrical performance over Zoom? The reason I wanted to give it a go was because the theatre troupe that created it is Les Enfants Terribles. I went to see an exhilarating immersive performance they did in Leeds a few years ago, which majored heavily on audience participation and saw my friend dragged up on stage and then disappear for the entire interval only to reappear on stage for the second half… completely on his own. It was fun and very silly. Something we’re all in dire need of.

And so, I signed up to the Victorian-style Sherlock Holmes virtual experience, The Case of the Hung Parliament, with the promise of adventure and intrigue.

Prior to starting we make sure we have Google Chrome and Zoom on a laptop (or computer), as well as a pen and paper to write down ‘evidence’, a spyglass (smartphone), headphones with a microphone, and a deerstalker hat (although the latter is not compulsory).

You can choose to do it as a private group of six, with friends and family, or as a public group of six strangers. We choose the latter. Each person works from their own device, so if you’ve signed up as one household of six, you’ll all need your own laptop.

And so we log into the secret Zoom meeting. We wait a few minutes as our teammates slowly appear on screen. There’s a certain awkwardness to being on a Zoom call with a bunch of strangers, like the beginning of a bizarre business meeting (Jackie Weaver springs to mind).

But before long Dr Watson appears, played by Ralph Bogard, who puts us all at ease asking us to speak up and get involved. Sherlock Holmes is on another job, so it’s up to us to solve the Case of the Hung Parliament. Three politicians have been found dead, and there are five suspects to choose from – a newspaper publisher, a politician, a textile manufacturer, a book publisher, and an anarchist – each with a motive.

With Dr Watson’s experience as a chief aide to sleuthing, he guides us through a series of interactive rooms, videos and performances to solve the murders. First up, we step into three virtual parliamentary chambers where the victims were hanged. This is our chance to find clues by clicking on objects in the rooms such as books, pocket watches, jewellery, confidential papers and photographs. Some of them hold valuable insights as to who might have committed the crime, and as a group, we shout out our findings, make notes and take photos.

Next up, it’s time to speak to the professionals. We are divided into two groups and separated into breakout rooms to either speak to forensics or rifle through key documents in Scotland Yard.

We choose forensics and are brought face to face with a pre-recorded video of Gwendoline Grey (played by Miranda Heath), who does not suffer fools gladly. We have to pick from a selection of automated questions to ask her in order to gather more clues. It would have been fun if this bit had been live too, but perhaps that might have been one step too far for the tech team who set all of this up.

On return to our main group, we share our findings, only to be told by Doctor Watson that it is now time to interview the suspects.

We fire a few more automated questions at a pre-recorded video of the suspicious Myrtle Dockett (Michele Moran). And then we are interrupted by a call from Sherlock Holmes himself, who recommends that we rifle through his study.

With all our sleuthing over, Dr Watson asks us to unveil who we think is guilty, what the method of murder was, and their motive (“method, motive, murder” Watson chants all the way through the game).

And guess, what? We find the culprit! We are the new Sherlocks! And we’re all delightfully pleased with our performance.

Designing this game must have been a real labour of love for app creators Livr and writers Oliver Lansley and Anthony Spargo. The level of detail in the clues, the different rooms, the videos and the story, is very impressive. It would be nice to see more live acting, but it’s best not to look at this as a replacement for theatre as we love and know it. Instead, it’s a fun way to spend 90 minutes of an evening doing something different. It’s ideal for those who love a puzzle similar to Escape Rooms, and for those who want to support an industry that would rather be working on stage in the West End right now.

Designing this game must have been a real labour of love – the level of detail in the clues, the different rooms, the videos and the story, is very impressive.

Sherlock Holmes: An Online Adventure runs until 4 April 2021. Private group of six £105 (£17.50 each), one public ticket £17.50.

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