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Review: HIDDEN FIGURES: WW2, St. Peter's Church

Review: HIDDEN FIGURES: WW2, St. Peter's Church

A thoroughly and emotionally immersive show that reframes the Second World War and explores the lesser-known figures whose contributions are mostly left out of textbooks.

Review: HIDDEN FIGURES: WW2, St. Peter's Church This review contains minor spoilers.

The immersive show business is booming. From the new Peaky Blinders experience to a life-size Monopoly game, from a disused pub that takes us to The West to Punchdrunk's two former arsenals clad in Grecian epicness, there's plenty to choose from.

But underneath an unassuming church in Bethnal Green, Party Geek and their creative director Paul King are single-handedly reframing the Second World War with a clever concept and an astonishing execution.

Directed by Zoe Flint, Hidden Figures: WW2 is a slick history lesson on the lesser-known minorities that helped win the war against Hitler. Immersion starts from the get-go with punters arriving at the location armed with a password to enter the building. Still, it's not that easy. They'll need to prove their purpose before gaining access to the Special Operations Executive headquarters.

A silver tongue and quick wit help through concealed passages, hands-on escape room-style illusions, and life-or-death decisions. Appointed a secret identity, patrons will be thoroughly interrogated and examined as part of their six-month assessment by the organisation before they're sent off on their missions.

Everything - from uniforms to furniture - is styled with bewildering detail by designer Christopher Styles. Stepping inside this anonymous basement feels like entering a time machine. Faded Union Jacks adorn the ceilings, mismatched chesterfields and creaky chairs litter the entrance, banners and trinkets and memorabilia shroud the various rooms.

The real stories of those who had a hand in defeating the Nazis underline the riddles and novelty of the gameplay. As the plot advances, the audience meets the likes of Alan Turing (portrayed by Styles in a heartbreaking performance), Polish spy Krystyna Skarbek (with an imposing and firm personality by Natalia Bogdanova), RAF Officer John Henry Clavell Smythe (Dare Emmanuel in stunning form), and nurse Lillian West (a delicate Chloe Mashiter).

It's a glorious chance to get acquainted with figures whose contributions are mostly left out of textbooks all wrapped up into a historically accurate and exceptionally well-researched structure. The adventure ends with a sombre address by Flint herself, who drops her Vera Atkins persona and delivers the truth behind the identities given at the start. We toast to queer men who were merely tolerated because of their astuteness in war; to the women who lived double lives; to sagacious disabled spies who gave their all for the cause.

From having to rat out "sexual deviances" in front of Turing himself to deciding whether to kill a few to save a lot, the production is thoroughly and emotionally immersive. While there's a great degree of fun in working on one's backstory, solving puzzles, and exploring ethical dilemmas, it's refreshing to see "immersive theatre" that's not only literal in its definition but that also makes a difference in the general public's perception of history and its key players.

Hidden Figures: WW2 is certainly one of the best shows in its genre and probably one of the best experiences currently running in London.

Hidden Figures: WW2 is currently booking until the end of December.


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From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina

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