views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Deadly Dose
Via Zoom
18th October 2020

★★★★★

Publicity image for A Deadly Dose

Photography provided by Play Dead London

My desk is littered with frantically scribbled notes. There are lists of people, personal connections between them, and other tidbits of information. Shuffling through the sheets of paper, it's evident that my handwriting has started to deteriorate as the time pressure has increased. Earlier that evening, Detective Slaughter (Tom Morgan) recruited me as a fellow investigating officer to help him solve the mysterious murder of Jacob John Canning. I've come up with some leads, but solving the mystery of A Deadly Dose is proving rather challenging...

In a post-pandemic era, entertainment has two options: adapt or die. Play Dead London have picked both, killing off a fictional suspect and adapting seamlessly to video conferencing technology. A Deadly Dose is one of their immersive murder mystery shows, penned by company founder Emma Crocombe. Whilst it was previously set in the very apt venue of The Operating Theatre at London Bridge, it has now gone 100% online and has not lost any of the ambience from such a quirky in-person venue.

Along with our head detective, there are seven players, all dressed for 19th-century London and with plenty of secrets to reveal. There is also a local guide (Crocombe herself), who facilitates screen sharing, keeps an eye on timings and resolves any technical problems, leaving our suspects free to chat to us, without worrying if Zoom is going to go a bit wonky. There's never a need to break character. The use of technology is very well thought-out, with breakout rooms used to represent the different areas in London Bridge, and the murder suspects waiting in each one to be interviewed. You can, of course, choose how you divide your time. However, the company recommend trying to talk to everyone, and that's good advice.

We have the freedom to move around ourselves and thanks to the magic of Zoom, can always see who is already in a particular room before deciding if we want to enter. This format makes it easier to corner one of the potential murderers on their own or to follow around a fellow gumshoe who we think has asked some insightful questions so far. Whilst most people have chosen to dial in with a bubbled companion, a few of us explore on our own. If you want to team up with a random audience member, there's nothing to stop you. Despite a cold body on a slab in the operating theatre, the detectives are all in high spirits...

Publicity image for A Deadly Dose

Photography provided by Play Dead London

One of the strongest and weakest points of this format is the overlap with the random members of the audience. They might help, they might hinder - and they're just as unpredictable as the players. You can book the company for private events, and I suspect that would be even more dead fun (no pun intended).

So, whodunnit, then? The choices range from aristocratic couple Lady Suzanna Beechworth (Sabrina Luisi) and Lord Beechworth (Paul Dagley) to the doctor performing the autopsy, Dr Thomas Theobald (Rory Vieyra) and his medical supplier, William Smith (Rhys Harris). We also meet a landlady, Molly Cook (Rachel Lucy Smith), perpetual do-gooder Sister Annie Hughes (Rachel Henderson) and a purveyor of alternative remedies, Madame Scarlett Dubois (Joanne Tanner). They're a varied bunch of protagonists, all with a plausible motivation and acted with enthusiasm and commitment. It's down to you to figure out which reason resulted in Canning's death.

It's difficult to explain much more than that without giving the game away. When you speak to each player, they reveal facts which enable you to recreate a picture in your mind. Unfortunately, sometimes it's a compelling yet wholly irrelevant picture, and it will take you a while to sift through all the stories and come to a landing. The more I chat to different characters, the more skeletons I greedily collect, and although I put together some plausible hypothesises, I don't know how contented I am with them.

Despite the many notes, I'm almost embarrassed to admit I don't solve the case - a small consolation is that the 20-odd other would-be Sherlocks are equally unsuccessful. Although the time allocated to interrogate the characters is short, it is long enough to gather enough evidence and come up with the right answer. As satisfying as coming to the same conclusion as Detective Slaughter would be, failing to get it right doesn't take away from the enjoyment.

You would be hard-pressed to beat A Deadly Dose for a fun night in, especially given its low ticket pricing. Play Dead London are innovative, versatile, engaging, and despite the grim stench of murder, they really are a breath of fresh air when it comes to lockdown entertainment.

A Deadly Dose opened on 14th October and runs until 1st November 2020 on various dates. You can check availability and book tickets via DesignMyNight.



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