Live Murder Mystery in the 21st Century
The year is 1879 and you are all invited to the autopsy of Jacob John Canning. But something is wrong….very wrong. It appears that Canning’s death wasn’t natural causes – we need you to solve the case! Come back to Victorian London with us and help Detective Slaughter crack the mystery!
First things first, no, this is not an Escape Room, but let’s face it – immersive/interactive theatre, murder mystery dinner parties, escape rooms – they’re all cousins on the same branch of the entertainment family tree. With Lockdown 2.0 happening, we’re all confined to our homes again, so if you’re looking for something a little bit different to the quizzes that reigned supreme at the beginning of the year, a virtual murder mystery might be just what you’re looking for.
A Deadly Dose is the brainchild of the immersive murder mystery company, Play Dead London. PDL have been bringing murder mysteries to the public since 2018, and in the wake of the current pandemic, have adapted some of their mysteries into online experiences. Previously, A Deadly Dose was performed in the Old Operating Theatre in London Bridge. (As an aside, this is one of the more fascinating places I have wandered into in London, and if you ever get the chance, it’s well worth a visit. But that is not why we’re here.) Now, with the magic of Zoom, A Deadly Dose can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. And despite the fact that Gord can think of nothing worse than being put on a stage, and anything involving improv is my version of the nightmare where you turn up to school naked, when we received the invitaton to observe the autopsy of Jacob John Canning, we were intrigued, and ready to take on the case.
Whether you attend an immersive muder mystery event run by actors, or arange something amongst friends, in essence, it’s like like being dropped into the pages of an Agatha Christie novel, with evidence to analyse, and of course, suspects to interrogate, with plenty of plot twists in store. But the question is, how well does the experience translate into the digital world? The answer is, surprisingly well.
A Deadly Dose begins as we move from the waiting room and into The Old Operating Theatre (virtually of course). At first, seeing the sheer number of other participants was quite intimidating and rather overwhelming, but as the events got underway, it became less intimidating and a bit easier to really enjoy the experience, as we listened to the stories, and were presented with some evidence.
Of course, one of the key aspects of an immersive murder mystery is the opportunity to delve deeper into the lives of the characters, and if you were to attend a Play Dead London event in person, it would be quite easy to move from suspect to suspect to perform your interrogations, or to take a closer look at any evidence that is presented. Moving the experience online presents its own series of challenges, but Play Dead London have managed to overcome one hurdle by utilising the breakout room function of Zoom, and so with our list of six suspects and 25 minutes, we set about “visiting” different areas of London to solve the mystery.
Now, one of the main reasons I have never actually taken part in an immersive murder mystery is that I am not the best at unscripted interactions, and had absolutely no idea what I should be asking in order to find the killer. This is partially due to the way my brain works, but I, personally, would have found it slightly easier to follow along, and feel confident that I missed nothing, had we been able to access the evidence presented independently through links in the chat, rather than view it only with Inspector Slaughter as a slideshow (it could be paused, but we couldn’t zoom in etc.), which in turn might have given me confidence in the types of questions I wanted to ask. As it was, I felt that I didn’t have enough information going into breakout rooms to interrogate suspects to actually ask any useful questions. Fortunately, we were able to listen in to the questions asked by our “colleagues,” but as we could visit any of the suspects in any order, and at any time within our 25 minute window, we often found ourselves coming into the middle of a conversation, and feeling like we were playing catch up.
In hindsight, I can now think of questions we could have posed to our various suspects to get the ball rolling, but at the time I was at a loss as to what to ask in order to seek out the truth. But in all honestly, even without asking our own questions we were able to glean bits of information from the suspects, thanks to overhearing the replies to other participants. Some of this information was useful, and some was not, but even without asking our own questions, we managed to correctly determine Mr. Canning’s cause of death before it was revealed.
Of course, the problem with not knowing what questions to ask ourselves, and not spending enough time with one particular suspect, did mean that we missed out on a crucial bit of information, and failed to correctly identify the cuprit. But despite our complete incompetence as detectives, I still totally enjoyed the experience.
Ordinarily, I would be writing about set design, game flow, puzzle design, clues, our host, and whatever other random points that occur to me about how the game drives a narrative forward and allows a player to be immersed in the experience, but A Deadly Dose isn’t an escape room and therefore doesn’t exactly have any of that. And when played online, A Deadly Dose doesn’t even have the physical venue of The Old Operating Theatre to transport us back to Victorian London. What it does have is a team of incredible actors.
From the moment we were introduced to our suspects, they began to weave a fascinating tale of the life, and events leading up to the death of Jacob John Canning. Each member of the cast was so familiar with their characters that they never felt as though they were playing a role, but were actually the friends, family, and acquaintances of the victim; it is the skill and commitment of the cast that truly makes this experience special.
Of course, if you want to up the immersion, get into the spirit of things – why not dress up, imbibe in a Victorian themed cocktail, speak in a pretentious accent, or perhaps a combination of any of these things!
We really had no idea what to expect from A Deadly Dose, and although it has become abundantly clear that we should probably not take up a second career in detecting, it was a fantastic experience. A Deadly Dose has now closed (at least for the time being) to make room for the next event from Play Dead London – Die Another Dame – which looks like it could be a perfect choice for a socially distanced Christmas party that’s outside the norm.