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Review: PHANTOM PEAK, London

Review: PHANTOM PEAK, London

Saddle up and check out this Wild West-themed immersive theatre.

Review: PHANTOM PEAK, London Phantom Peak, a Wild West-themed town with robots and no shortage of mysteries, may sound a tad like Westworld - but that's where the comparison ends.

Immersive theatre is going through something of a fillip recently both in terms of quality and quantity with a thrilling variety of experiences on offer. We can currently jitterbug with Jay Gatsby at a Roaring Twenties house party, join the Peaky Blinders crew on some typically shady Shelby Family shenanigans, explore the dark battleground of Mycenae and Troy, travel with Guy Fawkes in VR-assisted adventures under the Tower of London or be thrown headfirst into the murky world of London's underground music scene.

The latest addition is a huge open-air endeavour covering 30,000 square feet a short walk from Canada Water station. In this bright and inviting environment, there's plenty that one could expect to see in a Wild West theme park - cosy saloons, a picnic area, several vegan/vegetarian eateries, cute shops, a choice of carnival games and a boat ride - as well as some things that one wouldn't, not least a crashed airship and a robot DJ. One could feasibly spend hours having fun here without even probing one of the many strange happenings in Phantom Peak.

On entering, visitors are encouraged to browse a website on their phones and begin a pre-selected mission which delves into the town's backstory. Each step requires a response to be entered onto the website before the next stage is revealed. Answers to the tasks and questions can be found by talking to the local denizens, using the screens dotted around the site and scanning the walls. Once a mission is complete, another is suggested; we went on two missions, each took around an hour and both were highly enjoyable.

The finest feature of Phantom Peak is undoubtably its deep story and the place's brilliant cast of characters. The blurb promises a hundred adventures and games and twenty-five actors which gives an idea of the scale of this enterprise. It may seem irksome initially to have a strange man in a natty waistcoat enthusiastically tell us about their pet platypuses but, generally, there's a relaxed conviviality and a genuine feeling of connection with the townfolk.

While most immersive shows revolve around one-off set pieces and treat individual encounters as rare and cherished moments, Phantom Peak flips the script. There are no grand set pieces to speak of and every story mission is driven forward by short-but-detailed conversations with shop owners, carnival folk, politicians and a whole host of others, all of whom with their own personality, story and views on how the town is being run.

Whether chatting to them as part of a mission objective or just generally, they are happy to spout forth their views on the cultish Jonas and his recent takeover, the ranking system which gives each people a grade, the diamant mine and the blimp still aflame in the Old Town. On leaving, some four hours after we first set foot in the place, it feels a bit of a wrench to leave these people behind.

For what seems like a decent stab at recreating a Wild West town, there are some discernable omissions, not least a lack of cowboys, horses, guns and ladies of negotiable virtue (Deadwood this ain't). That's understandable in a production which is - unlike almost every other current immersive theatre show - unashamedly designed as an experience that a family can enjoy, but this in turn creates a less accurate depiction of frontier life. The actors look like they are having a great time but their diverse manners of speaking can be off-putting - some assay an American accent, some assail it and some thankfully don't bother at all.

While we don't buy the show's guff about this being "the world's first fully-immersive open-world adventure" (Punchdrunk among others would have something to say about that), Phantom Peak is an exciting experience as it stands and, if it maintains its present high standards as it expands, it is definitely something worth keeping an eye out for.

Phantom Peak is booking until 16 October.

Photo Credit: Phantom Peak




From This Author - Franco Milazzo


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