Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel
Reviewed – 30th January 2018
“Running from room to room starts to feel like a wild goose chase when you know that you can’t really ‘fail’”
The Grift is an immersive and interactive piece of theatre, performed at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. After registering at the front desk, you are given a key to wear on a lanyard around your neck and sent to a waiting room.
The audience are completely involved in the story, having been ‘invited’ to the hotel in order to help carry out the last wishes of Ben (played by Kevin Moore). Having grown up in the hotel, Ben learnt the art of the ‘grift’, became a con artist and he has one last score to settle. This is where the audience come in. What follows is a series of puzzles to solve and a frantic journey from room to room in the hotel.
We were grouped up into teams of five and given a set of locked boxes and a list of directions. Along the way the audience are introduced to the grandchildren of Ben’s carers, who set tasks to complete. These ‘intelligence tests’ are challenging, but the excitement of them is lost in the fact that you know that you cannot fail. The actors are sometimes too keen to offer help and it’s made clear that you’re under a time constraint. This does remove some of the immersion in what is otherwise a fun interactive activity.
After completing each test, the team then takes part in a small con. This is definitely the most exciting part of the performance. The Grift is not for the shy, however, because many of the ‘cons’ you have to take part in involve a certain degree of acting and performance. The evening concludes with everyone coming back together for the final grift.
Tom Salamon’s concept of an immersive con, turning the audience into con artists, is good in its premise. However, The Grift is transparent in its manipulation of the audience to fit the narrative and this can make it seem condescending. Running from room to room starts to feel like a wild goose chase when you know that you can’t really ‘fail’ any of the challenges given to you.
The actors do make the most of a somewhat cheesy script. Especially notable was Daniel Miller, who made up for the far-fetched backstory behind his character by making him a somewhat realistic person, rather than a caricature. When dealing with the audience face to face, the importance of seeming realistic and believable is sometimes lost behind the need for the groups to finish their tasks quickly.
The hotel is a nice venue for the performance, and whilst the group I was in managed to get lost multiple times, it works well for a pretty backdrop whilst moving between places.
The Grift provides an enjoyable evening of entertainment which is very different from traditional theatre. Whilst lacking in the believability and realism that is expected of immersive theatre, it’s fun and light hearted, and a nice night out.
Reviewed by Charlotte Cox
Photography by Scott Rylander
Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel until 25th March