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Review: THE WEST, COLAB Tavern

Review: THE WEST, COLAB Tavern

COLAB Theatre's latest immersive venture is a great excuse to take out those cowboy boots at the back of your closet and lose yourself in the silly pretence of it all.

Review: THE WEST, COLAB Tavern In the last five years, "immersive theatre" has grown into an umbrella term for a number of types of production. Perhaps thanks to the exponential success of Secret Cinema or the growing search for individual experiences that create a connection between artist and audience, "immersive" now includes anything from a play presented in the round to whatever Punchdrunk cook up.

But there's one company who's been steadily creating impressively immersive shows. And we mean properly immersive and thoroughly interactive. COLAB Theatre have their audiences getting their hands dirty and, whether it's carrying out deals with mobsters in Crooks 1926 or chasing undercover agents in Spy City, taking an active role in the narrative.

Their latest release brings the Old West to South London. Kind of. Stepping into the COLAB Tavern near Elephant and Castle feels like entering one of those money-making tourist-trap attractions rather than into a time machine as it did with Crooks.

The experience toes the line between hen-do fun and delightfully over-the-top kitschiness. Cowboy boots, smoking pistols, and a tobacco-chewing drawl welcome the jaded citizens of a town destroyed by a sandstorm (aka the audience). Will we edge towards a life of gun-slinging crime or become a prim and proper hometown hero during our mission to heal and rebuild?

While the plot still allows for a good deal of agency compared to other enterprises, the participatory side storylines are limited and slightly redundant. Bertie Watkins, Ben Chamberlainand Charlotte Potter's script takes over regularly with the excuse of a town meeting.

Fake money is handed out quite liberally in order to buy new buildings and create the village while other groups take care of the outlaws. A few patrons are arrested under suspicion of being members of a band of bandits guilty of a train robbery. We got to blow up some dynamite. There is a shoot-out.

But everything happens too easily. Secret locations are given out without a blink if one asks nicely. Help is also provided with no strings attached. There's very little challenge to it and the stakes are too low to maintain any sort of charged ambience.

In our case, the toughest assignment was a treasure hunt that led to the deed to some land (which we bought off of a landlady in exchange for a few bucks and some guidance with a love letter we never wrote). But, once again, we were supported too much.

The final, unexpected twist is the only truly original and compelling element of it all. It's unpredictable and intriguing, but it's sadly left unexplored and under-used. All in all, The West is alright. It's a great excuse to take out those cowboy boots at the back of your closet, don an accent, have a few drinks, and lose yourself in the silly pretence of it all.

It works, but it's rather underwhelming - especially if you've experienced what COLAB can do. They might have shot themselves in the foot with this one. Let's hope it's only a graze.

The West runs at the COLAB Tavern until 1 October.

Photo Credit: The West


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

... (read more about this author)

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