Annabel Mellor is plunged back into Britain's Darkest Hour. She immerses herself, becoming an MP and making decisions that may yet save our great nation from Hitler's invasion. She does it For King And Country.

For King and Country is an immersive show set in the murky depths of 1940: Great Britain’s darkest hour. Nazi forces have landed on the south coast and are advancing towards London. You are an MP, one of a handful of ‘designated survivors’, sheltering in a secure underground location in south London. There is an escape-room vibe, with many strategic elements for the audience to get involved in, and some complex game mechanics at play (although they’re hidden behind period maps and telephones).

For King And Country COLAB Factory

Christopher Styles & Zoe Flint (image courtesy of Owen Kingston)

The show gets the fundamentals of immersive theatre broadly right – rules are well established and the cast have an impressive command of the space. The best elements of the show give us a clear task to achieve, it’s easy to get stuck in when we’re asked to debate and vote in a makeshift parliamentary session, for example, or write a stirring speech to broadcast to the nation.

A big tick in favour of For King And Country is the extent to which the audience’s decisions influence the action. We’re given a huge amount of agency, and the story unfolds to reflect our resulting choices. There are real voices on the ends of the telephones and imaginative historical brains behind the scenes, each reacting to the audience. It feels compelling and real; a rare chance to experience the heady combination of power and responsibility that is so far removed from real life.

For King And Country COLAB Factory

Christopher Styles & Zoe Flint (image courtesy of Owen Kingston)

However, some of the choices and tasks the audience is given are not well enough defined, leaving us to dither and the pace to drop. Additionally, in the show I attended, people volunteered willingly for the key roles but then weren’t sure exactly what to do, or how best to drive the story. Considering how high the stakes are in this alternate reality, and how much For King And Country asks of its audience, we should perhaps be better equipped to step up to the task. I’d welcome a more detailed briefing at at the start, for example, so that audience members can make an informed choice about whether or not to volunteer, and enjoy more freedom to play around with their role.

The small, hardworking cast is fluidly responsive and tightly drilled thanks to Owen Kingston’s direction. Mention must go to Peter Dewhurst, highly polished as MP Douglas Remington-Hobbs, using strong improv skills and a witty repartee to keep the crowd in control and the action ticking along.

Credit must go to the show’s designers – the world they create demonstrates their perfect attention to detail. It’s both atmospheric and liveable, ensuring we feel safe to explore and interact without fear of breaking anything. The sound and lighting are highly effective, although both can easily be taken several shades bolder in order to heighten the drama.

For King And Country COLAB Factory

Zoe Flint & Christopher Styles (image courtesy of Owen Kingston)

Unfortunately the ending feels weak, with a strong whiff of ‘it was all a dream’ – a shame considering how empowered the audience is throughout, and how swept away we are by the end. It’s no mean feat to cause an audience to forget the course of history; this level of suspended reality is an opportunity to do something far bolder and more exciting than simply undo it all.

The concept of For King and Country is fantastic and it’s nicely executed. A lot of thought and care has gone into the design, game mechanics and role of the audience. With a few tweaks and a reconfigured ending it will be a very special piece, one to get stuck in and swept away by.

 

 

★★★☆☆

For King And Country runs at The Colab Factory, currently booking until 10 June 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.