Established in 2012 COLAB Theatre, focuses on creating immersive and interactive theatre. COLAB are the creators of Crooks 1926, which ran in London for 2 years, making it one of London’s longest running immersive experiences. This time around they are transporting audiences directly into The West.

In any immersive experience, an individual’s enjoyment will be in direct proportion to one’s willingness to participate. This new production from COLAB set in the Wild West certainly makes demands of its audience, requiring much collaboration during the running time. Tasks will be assigned. Interference will be run. At points, you may be asked to directly insert yourself into the proceedings. The intensity could possibly be too much for one of a less extroverted sensibility. From the start, the cast very astutely analyses personality with a series of casual questions as the audience gathers inside the courtyard entrance. This clever tactic allows quick observational insight into those most willing to interact and those of a more reserved nature (a safe word is provided just in case of panic). Large groups are encouraged to book, as the more self-conscious members may then have buffers.

The sheriff and mayor greet the audience at the door, welcoming each and every one to their town. Both are resplendently dressed in full cowperson regalia. A terrifying sandstorm has recently devastated the county. It is in hope that the new arrivals may offer their assistance in resettling the area. The sheriff inquires as to particular skill sets that may be of use. From a doorway, a shifty-eyed pastor acutely avoiding the sheriff’s attention beckons people indoors. With great elan, he offers to hear confessions and absolve sins. After the session, all are led to the saloon, where a ne’er do well greedily guzzles local moonshine. His tongue loosened, he spouts off about the virtues of the sheriff and mayor but laments their troubled son. No information divulged-or question asked-is informal in this environment. Listen carefully. All is linked to the internal mechanism of the plot. So as not to give too much away, from this moment revelations drop like bombs and the audience gets divided into groups, each following a particular member of the cast.

It is with genuine concern I continue hoping not to spoil with excessive explanation. I & my friend (along with another couple) wound up enmeshed with bandits, recruited to the dark side, plotting to overthrow authority. Our storyline incorporated escape room scenarios and role-playing prowess to achieve objectives. Only at the end, when our final assaultive act was abruptly halted by a more dominant framework was the brilliance of this work revealed. There had been signs that parallel stories had been unspooling next to ours, witnessed in the peripheral. In the course of a mission, I encountered people engaged in buying land, for instance, the purpose unknown to me. Tables in the bar were set for poker games we never played. There were rooms into which my group never stepped, although some activity was clearly staged there. The sudden crash knocked me sideways.

That The West has so many simultaneous narratives which are nimbly balanced without losing control speaks to a strong central, integrated spine and expert focus. While keeping each group fully engaged in their particular storyline, the creators must also on occasion bring the full audience together for a mass sequence. A showpiece trial, in particular, must have played out in several fascinating perspectives in relation to which group you were associated with. The actors commit with furious gusto and engaging charm to their broad Southern stereotypes. Improvisatory acumen comes to the forefront. The performers must be able to respond in the immediate to audience behaviour but also keep the narrative moving towards its scripted goals. It would be worth it, should you have the time, to sit down with other audience members following the show to discuss details (were others more privy than I to the multiplicity?).

With a limited budget but a commendable excess of DIY, “let’s put on a show” brio, COLAB has crafted a masterpiece of showmanship and verve. This is a layered and original work bursting with surprise. Book now for a rootin’ tootin’ time- you are guaranteed to emerge exhilarated.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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