Review: The Invitation, Town Hall Hotel

Immersive theatre is one of the most lucrative sectors of the current theatrical landscape. Promising an intimate and tactile experience, many people are intrigued by the allure of being so close to the action, a selling point that end-on theatre cannot always boast. Tonight I am one of many fascinated by this unique set-up; the promise of a devilish night of mystery and danger has me eager to don my mask and enter this world. However, the only mystery that needs solving tonight is how this event can be sold as a sumptuous evening of revelry when it misses the mark completely.

The Invitation is set in a secret club which exists to serve the darkest sexual desires of society’s elite. As the evening begins we realise a shadow looms over this evening’s debauchery; a murder has taken place and we are all witnesses and suspects. Sounds like the perfect storyline for an intriguing night, but the truth is the weight of our presence is about as impactful as a grain of sand. 

The most obvious problem with tonight’s performance is the script. The dialogue is dripping in overplayed masculinity reminiscent of the American bad-cop archetype. The two detectives are too busy grappling for control, they don’t realise the story’s structure has already descended into disarray. The story is so high stakes, but the audience just don’t believe it, with the evening’s events becoming almost comical. There is not a moment that I’m genuinely fearful, I’m barely intrigued, yet the cast keep trying to push a narrative which suggests I should be cowering in fear. I can’t fault the cast for trying to keep the suspense up, but their efforts are all for naught. 

A highlight of the night is the venue – the Town Hall Hotel is a believable base for a secret society. With a courtroom on site, the stage is set for a dramatic night of unearthing secrets. Disappointingly we only get to explore two rooms and even then, without taking some initiative you don’t really get your hands dirty. The audience is ushered from room to room and then left to wander. Although the freedom to explore is not a bad thing, the lack of cohesion is. Even after solving the few puzzles left scattered around, we don’t get to do anything with that knowledge. 

A flicker of hope for this show comes from an interesting underlying commentary on the current state of our world. One moment in particular leaves me impressed by an intellectual plot twist that brings together moments from both the beginning and end of the night. Alas, these moments are few and far between, to say the least. 

This murder mystery is practically dead on arrival – from the get-go, scenes that should have us hushed in trepidation, leave us giggling at the blatant over the top drama. The more the piece pushes for genuine terror, the more the audience pull away from the ridiculous notion that we should be scared. I’m no detective, but my hunch is that the real victim of tonight’s performance is the audience.

The Invitation is playing the Town Hall Hotel until 5 April. For more information and tickets, visit the Secret Theatre website.