If you worry that cruel life has scuppered your dreams of becoming an investigative journalist, fear not: Death of the King at the CoLab Factory offers an opportunity to live those yet unrealised fantasies.
Produced by acclaimed theatre company ImmerCity and written by David Knight, Death of the King is an intricate, imaginative, and wholly immersive production that posits the spectator as an integral character, plunging each audience member into the role of a reporter on a murder case. Though the intensely interactive nature of the performance naturally means that this won’t be everybody’s ideal theatre experience, the concept is very well executed, the actors are exceptional, and it is certainly a night to remember.
Directed and produced by ImmerCity core member Rosanna Mallinson, the psychologically thrilling production comes alive the moment you walk in. On arrival, each participant is presented with a sheet of paper explaining that he or she is a journalist who has been invited to help solve a murder.
In 1973, a musician named Rusty (William Frazer) disappeared under mysterious circumstances, yet the incident was never investigated. Now, 33 years later, his body has been uncovered in Borough and blame is falling on his former bandmate, Jack (played by both Eric Colvin and George Eddy).
Jack, desperate to prove his innocence, enlists the help of a woman called Magpie (Mallinson), an unusual individual with the power to “resurrect forgotten things”. Magpie can recreate the night of Rusty’s death so that the audience-journalists are able to interrogate the people who were present, examine the evidence and, ultimately, write a story to clear Jack’s name.
The CoLab Theatre provides an excellent and incredibly atmospheric setting. Upstairs, the space is light and inviting, with a small bar in the corner and coloured lights strung up from the ceiling, and this is where the audience interact with Jack and Magpie in the present day. Downstairs, by stark contrast, is dark, labyrinthine, and squalid: the abandoned rug factory that served as the band’s resident squat in 1973. This is where the audience witness events of the night of Rusty’s death “as they happened”, with little clues hidden among the mess. Much of the fun of the evening is derived from discovering a cleverly concealed piece of evidence using the little torch supplied on arrival.
Throughout the evening, the actors remained committed and utterly compelling to watch. After the enactment of moment of Rusty’s death, each is suspended in a moment in time while the audience roam from room to room to question them. In intoxicated stupors, their answers are convincingly evasive, giving away mere slivers of useful information.
The portrayal of the angry Rusty and existentially angsty Philosophy student Alex (Daniel Reed) juxtaposed with the wasted, vulnerable Bex (Christi Van Clarke), glassy-eyed guitar-strumming Jack, and languishing, hallucinating Suze (Jenny Wills) creates a chaotic snapshot of the fateful night that is incredibly evocative. What’s more, each actor coped with the audience’s giggles, awkward approaches and questioning with tremendous professionalism; there wasn’t so much as a blink out of character throughout the entire play.
Though the evening was enjoyable, towards the end of the performance many participants’ energy had started to wane. The plot was complex and intriguing, yet at times, as the audience is left without much direction, we found ourselves a little stuck. Yet, overall, this was a highly engaging, cleverly thought-out production elevated by outstanding performances and creative staging.
Death of the King is playing the CoLab Factory until 4 June.