Review: Dead Man's Hand, The Castle Farringdon

Dead Man’s Hand is a jam-packed afternoon of puzzle solving around the streets of Farringdon. It’s an interactive murder mystery in which we set out unearth who killed Jack Spade at the famous The Underhand Club, a venue that facilitates nightly illegal poker games. But don’t be fooled into thinking it will be relaxing, instead you will need both mind and body fully prepared for the frantic chase that will be your afternoon. 

This production combines silly acting, dramatic scenes and a frenzy of strange characters. The puzzles are effectively challenging, but there isn’t enough time to fully grasp the whole concept in two hours and by the end it feels impossibly difficult to solve. I don’t know whether many other teams actually worked out “whodunnit”, but my team was far off the correct answer! Then after all the exertion, the winners are rewarded with just a sad looking trophy. This is a brilliant and fun concept, but is cheaply done in places. 

Firstly, we are invited into The Underhand Club to play a game of poker and enjoy the pub’s drinks for 45 minutes before the overly-staged acting begins. After being told that the poker games are about to begin, the strict policeman storms in and claims the whole room are suspects for Jack’s death. The only way to remove the blame from our names is to scour the streets for clues as to who killed Jack. Graeme Stirling as the Poker Master and Bruce Panday as the Inspector are appropriately spoof-like and their puns are stupidly silly. This absurd foolishness is a good representation of the rest of the acting and characterisation throughout the show. Panday does well with our rowdy audience that heckle and joined in with the jolly atmosphere at The Castle pub. Actors are then stationed around checkpoints and perform similarly over-the-top acting to make sure we receive the necessary clues. Sarah Ratheram, Karim Bedda and Alice Inglis confidently guide us in the right direction and act with a rehearsed ease that is automated at times. 

The puzzles themselves are exciting and challenging. They are extremely clever (perhaps a little too clever), which makes it all the more gratifying when they are solved, but frustrating when they aren’t. Included in the story are bizarre Instagram accounts, disturbing phone calls and dramatic text messages, so be sure to make sure you have a full battery and lots of data to enjoy the full effect of their modern murder mystery. They’ve got the whole of Farringdon set up for a fun adventure, that while is enjoyable, is also overly complicated and too satirical at times. It’s also unfortunate that this particular section of Farringdon is currently under reconstruction, and we are constantly walking around building sites to locate the next point of interest. 

If I were to complete this theatrical challenge again, I would do it with a big group. As two people on a team, it’s difficult and easy to lose momentum as the day wears on. The whole show lasts fours hours, so stamina and energy are key in this activity-based experience. 

If you love solving puzzles and discerning convoluted plots, this is the afternoon for you. However if you wish to be entertained, Dead Man’s Hand will not be your favourite. I believe the success of the afternoon is solely dependent on who you are with, and how willing you are to cipher a complex riddle. Regardless, A Door In A Wall have done a great job at creating an action-packed afternoon with an intricate narrative.

Dead Man’s Hand is playing at The Castle Farringdon until 26 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Design My Night website.