Digital theatre review: The Mermaid’s Tongue
James R | On 18, Mar 2021
In the past year, with theatres closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the very definition of the word “theatre” has become thrillingly expansive and inclusive. Building upon years of stage recordings, cinema broadcasts and online streaming, the world of digital theatre has only widened – and now, arguably, includes not only productions designed specifically for broadcast on Zoom but also immersive experiences that ask people to play along at home.
It’s perhaps no surprise that one success story of the past 12 months is an online escape room called The Mermaid’s Tongue. The second part of a three-part series – beginning with Plymouth Point and ending with The Kindling Hour – it’s a digital recreation of the escape room phenomenon, inviting audiences to play detective and solve clues while talking online, instead of rummaging through drawers and desks in person.
But while video chats and cracking codes has become relatively commonplace among escape roomers during the pandemic, The Mermaid’s Tongue comes with some polished production values and nifty interactive ideas that set it out from the pack. That’s to be expected given who’s behind it: Swamp Motel, the immersive entertainment company founded by Clem Garritty and Ollie Jones, previously part of the experimental theatre troupe Punchdrunk.
Beginning with what is ostensibly a virtual art class, things descend into darker, murkier territory as your group is drawn into a conspiracy involving the hunt for an ancient artefact. What ensues is a superbly conceived string of conundrums that will challenge even veteran room-escapees, thanks to the deft digital reimagining of genre staples, whether it’s CCTV footage or telephone auctions or passwords to online accounts.
Assistance and instructions are provided by a playful written co-conspirator, but it’s very much a team effort, one that’s rooted in the kind of screen-sharing everyday communication and collaboration that now defines reality for many. A strict 90-minute time limit also means that things keep moving with the kind of pacing reserved for a well-rehearsed farce, and the bespoke video platform avoids complicating matters or getting in your way.
Best of all, though, are the way that the game/show uses both your mobile phone and its own video messaging system to surround you with just enough context to make things believably tense. Spilling out from its own corner of the internet into just enough other places to convince, the result combines committed acting and suspenseful screen performances with your own panicked face – a balancing act that makes for a unique, gripping and entertaining experience that’s nothing if not theatrical. No wonder it’s extended its run from November 2020 to March 2021 – and now to May 2021.
The Mermaid’s Tongue is running until May 2021. Book tickets here.