With immersive theatre growing in popularity, it comes as no surprise that companies such as CoLab, are trying to get audience members more involved. CROOKS tackles this with a focus on audience participation – putting groups of ten people at the centre of its narrative action, actively providing the opportunity to interact with actors, explore the environment and shape the story. As a result, this ‘pervasive theatre’ experience is the sort that gets right up in your face, hands you a golf club and demands that you yell “Fuck that c*nt,” before smashing a champagne glass across the room.
With an invitation to infiltrate the criminal underworld at its core, CROOKS takes us on an undercover mission into the lair of notorious gangster, ‘The Don’. This self professed kingpin has a close knit ensemble of despicable characters – the manic drug dealer, the brutish strong man and the femme fatale wife, Matilda, who all bring their own special sort of craziness to the party. Set in a Borough warehouse, we’re led through a series of set pieces that formulate a rough storyline, collecting evidence and attempting assassination as we go.
As with most immersive experiences, the devil is in the detail and the art direction and use of location is excellently choreographed; moving different groups around various portions of the building as we’re invited to steal floppy disks and play Russian roulette with The Don. Where CROOKS falls down, however, is in the underdeveloped story. There are moments of gripping character performance in the opening section of what promise to be a dangerous and blood thirsty ninety minutes, but once the wheels are in motion, it takes every ounce of the talented casts ability to ad-lib and wrangle groups of people from one room to the next; apparently forgetting to bring engaging story beats and character development along with them.
This delicate balance between improv and story progression is where cracks begin to form and soon the Wizard-of-Oz’s-like-curtain is pulled back far enough to reveal the distracting ropes and pulleys that strain to keep the illusion together.
Ultimately CROOKS offers an enjoyable ninety minutes of snooping around an abandoned warehouse and engaging with some talented actors, but the ‘pervasive experience’ was left a little wanting – with a scenario and location so full of potential, I can’t help thinking that it wasn’t fully reached.
For more information about the production see the CoLab website: http://www.colabtheatre.co.uk/crooks/