Review: Werewolf: Live, Brighton Fringe

I’m a fan of the game Werewolf, having played a fair few rounds of it as a student. So I was intrigued and excited by the concept of it being turned into a Brighton Fringe spectacle by Jon Gracey of Moonshot games.

There are several versions of Werewolf; some call it Mafia, some Traitor, and now there’s also a smart new board game called The Resistance, which is based on the same concept. But in case you haven’t heard of it under any of these titles, the concept is thus: you’re given a playing card by the game’s narrator, and this card dictates whether you’re a villager – an innocent – or a werewolf – a murderer – who will work with at least one other werewolf to pick and ‘kill’ a villager each night when everyone’s ‘asleep’ (has their eyes shut).

Some villagers have a card which gives them a special power, such as the Seer, who gets to guess a different player who they think could be a werewolf each night. The narrator calls for night time in the village, and all must close their eyes. The narrator asks for the werewolves to open their eyes and point silently at who they want to kill. Everyone then opens their eyes, the narrator says who was killed (this person must remain silent for the rest of the game), and the villages plus the disguised werewolves pretending to be villagers discuss who they think did it. The group then collectively nominate one person they think could be a wolf and the narrator ‘kills’ this person off, revealing their true identity. This is repeated for several rounds until either the villagers suss out the wolves, or the wolves outnumber the villagers and so win the game. Confused? It helps to play at least one round to get the hang of it.

The catch in Gracey’s version is that as well as the nine players of each round, there are also 30-odd audience members who have to watch silently during the rounds they’re not playing. However with three rounds, marshalled excellently by Gracey, most people got to play a round if they wanted to.

Let’s flush out the negatives first. Initially, this did feel like a terribly acted piece of improvised theatre. Those of us not on stage playing the game were left watching the nine selected players look awkwardly at one another and make shy, muffled accusations. There were no mics, and with many of us untrained at projecting to a room of people, there were several shouts of “Speak up! We can’t hear you!” from the back of the room.

At this point I’m questioning why people would pay for this when they could spend the evening playing it with friends at someone’s house. The fact there are also three rounds and each audience member will be selected to play just one of them, at best, also means it’s a little boring when you’re not involved.

Thankfully, the positives of Gracey’s vision outweigh the negatives. To get everyone involved and lighten the mood from the start, we were all asked to write down a name we’d like to call our village for the night. One humorous suggestion was then pulled from the hat, and remained the name of our village throughout the game.

The dark lighting, creepy music, and scattering of candles – basically all the props you wouldn’t bother with as a student – set the atmosphere perfectly. Gracey is a brilliant narrator, painting a detailed setting and masterfully driving each game forward with militant timings, to ensure we got three rounds out of the 70-minute performance – if you could call it that.

Werewolf: Live is intimate. The game naturally throws the spotlight onto each player at some point. Not for long, nor in a way that makes you feel expected to perform. Just long enough for you to try and convince the table you’re not a wolf. As with any game of Werewolf, when you’re playing you build a bond, you laugh, you’re impressed or dismayed by who betrays you, and determined to win for your side. In Gracey’s version, I also felt like I knew each round of players that left the stage; as if I’d watched them in an episode of a reality TV show, witnessing them expose fragments about their lives.

At the end, when our room of 40-odd were released back into the Warren, we left chatting. This is a rare and special experience where you’ll enter a room of strangers and leave it just over an hour later feeling familiar with one another.

Werewolf: Live is playing the Brighton Fringe until 13 May.