Tag Archives: Roberta Volpe

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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Side Show – 3.5 Stars


Side Show

CLF Art Cafe, Bussey Building

Reviewed – 3rd October 2018


“all credit must be given to Dom O’Hanlon and company for this spirited revival”


Written in 1997, and revived on Broadway in 2014, Sideshow is a relatively new musical. The score still feels fresh and demands attention, and the story’s overarching themes are both resonant and timely. The show tells the tale of the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, real women who were born in Brighton and went on to become two of the most well-known and well-paid performers in America during the 20s and 30s. We follow their lives from their early sideshow days to the poignant moment in which they are poised to star in a Hollywood movie, and are asked to think about what it means to be different, and to reflect on the struggle for individual agency and fulfilment.

The show’s director, Dom O’Hanlon, writes that the company was ‘drawn to the Bussey Building and its alternative feel’, and it’s true that walking through the bunting-bedecked Bussey tunnel, and climbing the concrete stairs from the yard, festooned with fairy lights, couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to the sideshow spirit. Roberta Volpe’s evocative set and Adrian Jeakins’ atmospheric sound design continue the illusion; so much so that we really seem to be in the big top for the duration. Lemington Ridley’s superb costume design is also perfectly pitched throughout, and contributes enormously to our immersion in the Side Show world.

Come Look at the Freaks, the powerful opening number, sets the tone for much of the work to come. The orchestra is tight and punchy, and the ensemble singing is clear and full of theatrical energy. John Reddel’s able musical direction ensures that these qualities remain throughout, and the company work is always strong enough to loft the ball back into the air on the occasions when some of the individual performances are lacking. For the most part, Katie Beudert (Daisy) and Lauren Edwards (Violet) are terrific, and carry the story with great charisma. Beudert perfectly captures Daisy’s starry-eyed effervescence, and, in contrast, Edwards has a purity of vocal quality and control which illuminates Violet’s quieter personality. Matthew James Nicholas gives a stand-out performance as Terry Connor, and moves adroitly from boyish charm in the first Act to the passionate intensity of Private Conversation in the second. There is no doubt that he has a serious Musical Theatre career ahead. Alexander Bellinfantie (Jake) is in fine voice for The Devil You Know – Act 1’s showstopper – but, frustratingly, seems physically uncomfortable on stage throughout, and Barry O’ Reilly’s Buddy, although performed with a lot of gusto, never achieves true fullness of character. Special mention though should go to both Olga-Marie Pratt and Aloña Walsh for their truthful performances in the ensemble.

Side Show is an intriguing piece, and it is definitely refreshing to see a musical which challenges the centrality of the ubiquitous boy meets girl relationship. It is not without its flaws however; chief among them an emotionally and narratively unsatisfying ending. Pint of Wine’s production does justice to Bill Russell’s book and to the music of Henry Krieger, but it too is flawed. The choreography seems too pedestrian for the subject, and the production loses its sharpness during the dance numbers. In addition, the scene transitions involving the full company need tightening. That said, all credit must be given to Dom O’Hanlon and company for this spirited revival.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Michael Smith


Side Show

CLF Art Cafe until 13th October



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