Tag Archives: Jonathan Holby

Variant 31


Space 18

Variant 31

Variant 31

Space 18

Reviewed – 1st October 2019



“in terms of its aim to be a video game come to life, Variant 31 is a triumphant success. However, its theatrical and storytelling elements don’t mesh quite as seamlessly”


Variant 31’s PR touts some serious ambition, as it claims itself to be the world’s largest live action video game experience. And in moments, that certainly feels like the case, as it perfectly captures the sense of having been transported into the likes of a Resident Evil game. However, at other times, it instead gives the impression that it bit off more than it could chew, and stumbles over those ambitions.

Set in a dilapidated laboratory that had been burned down decades ago after news of immoral human experimentation taking place leaked, it is up to you as a patient in a new trial to uncover the secrets of the past, as well as the laboratory’s present use, and stave off the horrors within. This essentially plays out like a horror game, where you have to explore the 42,000 square feet over 35 different floors, collecting points, shooting failed experiments in the face, and ensuring you don’t get infected. There’s an unbridled sense of fun to simply roaming around and investigating each meticulously decorated room (courtesy of Jamie Simmons’ and Roberta Volpe’s art direction), living out the bum-clenching fantasies perpetuated by the likes of Silent Hill or The Last of Us, and in terms of its aim to be a video game come to life, Variant 31 is a triumphant success. However, its theatrical and storytelling elements don’t mesh quite as seamlessly.

There is a narrative underpinning the action, but aside from the gleefully B-Movie-esque prologue and epilogue, it feels vacant and difficult to follow. You are given an objective as you start the experience, but if you complete it or stray from it, there is no way to attain a new one or maintain a sense of narrative momentum, which results in a lot of aimless wandering. The second half also sees some puzzles and riddles shake things up, in a style that will feel familiar to anyone who’s been in an escape room before, although the vagueness of some of these mixed with the expansiveness of the building can leave you feeling fairly clueless as to how to progress, and – unlike in an escape room – there’s no way to ask for guidance. As such, when time runs out and you eventually find your way to the epilogue (the doctors – who normally usher you away from out of bounds areas – are bafflingly unhelpful in pointing you in the right direction when your ninety minutes is up), it makes reference to a number of plot points that the average player simply won’t have experienced, which makes for a fairly disorientating and dissatisfying conclusion to the journey.

Additionally, although the vocal and physical commitment of the actors was exceptional – particularly the ferocious and terrifying failed experiments (featuring marvellously creepy makeup from Claire Golby) – the regular human characters felt a bit stretched thin, having to attend to the new group starting the experience every thirty minutes. This subsequently causes congestion as players end up backtracking due to the aforementioned lack of narrative drive leading to aimlessness. As such, the immersion is in some moments shattered as certain areas feel skimped on.

Variant 31 gets many of its elements very, very right – the mix of horror game, escape room, and laser tag makes for an undeniably joyous time with an eerie and adrenaline-filled atmosphere, but the experience is dampened by poorly-executed storytelling. Variant 31 may be the biggest, but it’s not quite the best.


Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Tom Grace


Variant 31

Space 18 until 31st December


Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Orpheus Descending  | ★★★★ | May 2019
Regen | ★★★ | May 2019
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
The Light In The Piazza | ★★★ | June 2019
Equus | ★★★★★ | July 2019
Appropriate | ★★★★ | August 2019
No One Likes Us | ★★★ | August 2019
Scenic Reality | | August 2019
The Parentheticals: Improdyssey | ★★★★ | August 2019
Falsettos | ★★½ | September 2019


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Fight Night

VAULT Festival

Fight Night

Fight Night

The Vaults

Reviewed – 31st January 2019



“an exceptionally presented intimate but high-stakes story”


It’s hard to deny that immersive theatre is making powerful waves in the industry, delivering a type of audience experience that gives them agency and a personal investment within the narrative. Exit Production’s Fight Night reinforces the notion that interactivity is the future of theatre in an exceptionally presented intimate but high-stakes story.

The audience are placed as the supporters of either Joe Williams (Peter Grimwood) or Ian Bradshaw (Edward Linard), two boxers about to trade blows in a pivotal match. The story follows the pre-match confrontations, the locker room anxieties, scheming and strategising, and of course the match itself – all of which the audience are integral in. They were assigned different roles, such as cornermen, doctors, and judges, and the extent to which they follow and participate in the narratives unfolding around them will alter the outcome of the match. It’s unclear how much audience input actually affected events, but – crucially – it felt in the moment as though huge consequences depended on your actions.

That said, if you aren’t keen on participation, it’s simple enough to let other people volunteer for the more interactive roles and watch the story play out around you – but I’d struggle to recommend that. I was placed in Joe’s team, and was treated to an engrossing underdog story revolving around his aspirations to push his career forward in spite of his working class background and a previous defeat. Stakes are driven higher by his girlfriend Kate (Hannah Samuels), culminating in a huge and difficult choice having to be made by the group before the fight.

The whole cast deliver masterful performances that are excellently naturalistic for the setting, especially Grimwood and Samuels who carry the energy of some very tense scenes exceptionally well considering that the shyness of audience members can sometimes drag down the pace in this style of theatre. The naturalism was occasionally taken a little too far and a few lines were inaudible at times, but never to the extent that the narrative was lost.

Dev J. Danzig’s set design also carries a huge amount of detail that transforms the venue into a living breathing boxing ring. Posters adorn the walls and video projection shows interviews and a live feed during the fight, while the locker and medical rooms are brimming with items like photos and newspaper articles that flesh out the world and characters to immense effect.

The genius of Fight Night lies in that you don’t really need to know anything about boxing to love it. Directors Joe Ball and Chris Neels have seamlessly woven together a whole tapestry of narratives that will have you fully invested through the challenging and personal choices you’ll have to make – even if you’re not a fan of the sport, by the time the fight rolls around you’ll instinctively find yourself hurling cheers and screams into the ring.


Reviewed by  Tom Francis

Photography by Mark Senior


Vault Festival 2019

Fight Night

Part of VAULT Festival 2019




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