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UnCorked Theatre presents ‘How To Solve A Problem Like Murder’

| Dance, Special Events, Theatre | 14/03/2016

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By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

With How To Solve A Problem Like Murder, UnCorked Theatre delivers one of the most intriguing, voyeuristic and memorable evenings in London right now: a captivating mixture of immersive theatre, murder-mystery and burlesque.  

The second you arrive at the venue – Paradise by way of Kensal Green – you become part of a complex and challenging reality, which claims you until the moment the murderer is finally unmasked.  The onus is on you to select your chief suspects and closely watch what they do and how they do it.  Our advice: get tickets while you can and then keep your wits about you.

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Carl and Jules making use of the Paradise bar.

Immersive theatre has never been more popular.  Whether signing up for the latest Secret Cinema release or impatiently awaiting the next Punchdrunk production, we all want to be part of the action.  Roaming the stage.  Blurring the lines between performer and audience, between art and reality.

Riding the crest of this wave, UnCorked Theatre commences its second run of How To Solve A Problem Like Murder, after a successful debut last autumn.

And it does so with the bold claim that with its own take on the medium, it cannot “be compared to those immersive theatre companies that have come before them”.

But the company – under the guidance of its richly talented Canadian artistic director Christie Lee Manning – delivers on this promise, producing an experience that moves beyond usual immersive audience participation to something much more voyeuristic and memorable.

If looks could kill

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Upstairs in Paradise.

The setting certainly helps: the upstairs of the gothic and eccentric Paradise by way of Kensal Green, is converted to an atmospheric jazz club for the production.  But it is the quality of the dancing and acting, and its proximity to the audience, that really renders this one of the most enjoyable events in London.

Ascending the stairs from the downstairs hipster bar, audience members are given a mask – to camouflage their own “dirty deeds and dark secrets” – and told not to speak, other than during the interval.  Then they’re guided into the main room – the jazz club – where seven characters are introduced, each representing a deadly sin.

There’s Carl – the club owner played by co-writer Lee Peter Hedges – whose wife is missing, leading him to hit the bottle in a major way.  Stella – played by Manning, the show’s director and other co-writer – who captains the dancers and captivates the audience with her leggy lunges.  James, the boyish, cock-sure dancer in a relationship with Marci – small, lithe and volatile, the would-be star of the show.  The dance quintet is completed by Jules – less complex and needy than her colleagues – and Chris, who barely seems to put a foot wrong.  Finally, we meet Joseph, the brooding bar manager who’s Carl’s confidante.

The lights go out.  A voice announces that one of the seven will be murdered.  We’re not told who.  Only that the killer resides amongst them.  Then we’re transported to dance rehearsals earlier in the day, to see how relationships have unravelled to the point of ultimate sin.

Follow my leader

The action alternates between all-cast scenes, and more intimate exchanges taking place in the other rooms and corridors.  During the latter, the audience can follow whoever they find most intriguing, creating the risk of missing the plot with a series of bad choices.  But choose wisely and – by listening to their conversations, reading messages over shoulders and retrieving things they throw away – you can begin to work out the stories behind the story and who has the best motive to murder.

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Stella, played by director and co-writer Christie Lee Manning.

At times it’s unnerving and intoxicating.  The cast ignore your existence, shoving past you aggressively in their willingness to confront someone in the next room, or flying into blazing rows with each other – clad  in underwear and suspenders – before your eyes and ears.  Each character is passionate and psychologically flawed, each has a reason for wanting someone dead.

And the dancing is full of feeling: whether it’s a group number set to traditional jazz or swing, or more individual and erotically-charged performances, including one that sees Stella and Marci crawling provocatively along the bar on all fours.

UnCorked Theatre describes the production as being “like the perfect kind of foreplay”, and it’s undoubtedly aimed at an adult and liberal audience.  That said, it’s sexy, not sleazy.

And the audience manage to keep their eyes on the prize: to unmask the murderer.  One member was so focused that she followed a male suspect into the toilet, before finding others using the facilities.  Aptly, she came out looking a little flushed.

Finally, after a breathless denouement, the murderer is unmasked.  With that, the audience departs having experienced something truly immersive and really rather special.

To book tickets for ‘How To Solve A Problem Like Murder’ at 19:00 and 21:00 every Thursday until 28th April 2016, go to the UnCorked Theatre booking page.  For further information, see the company’s website, Facebook page or follow it on Twitter @uncorkedtheatre.

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