I was given the opportunity to review this dynamic production by one of its cast members. Having never seen an immersive-style show performed in drag, I took up the offer. It was also the first time I had ventured into Digbeth to see some sort of performance.
There was a single file of audience members waiting to enter The Night Owl club. We were greeted by who (pardon the spoiler) turned out to be the murderer, Kevin Coprolite (Antonia Strafford-Taylor), the owner of a neighbouring fossil museum. As well as admitting us, s/he asked me to sign a petition to shut down the ‘Club de Pompidou’, and what my favourite hairstyle was. I replied: “Yours.” After being told that I was an undercover agent, a bouncer named Studley (Zoë Mack) carried out a rather futile security check, jabbing at me in a karate-like manner to already highlight that these characters were here to entertain.
The space contained a raised platform on the right and a mezzanine to the left, with a drinks bar below. As bass filled the room with the sound of conventional club music, almost every character was scattered around, suited and booted in drag. It is one thing to assume the role of a different person, but these performers went as far as taking on their opposite gender. Whether the actors were responsible for their own make up or were helped with it, they did a fine job in keeping their personal traits hidden and bearing only those of their characters.
Created by Birmingham Rep Foundry artist Will Jackson, Quick Duck Theatre ‘make interactive shows with a fun and comic twist’. At first I thought we, as the audience, were expected to question the murder suspects for ourselves and then report back our verdict. This was the case, but not until two members from ‘The Emergency Services’ guided us around, giving advice on how we could interrogate the suspects based on the evidence we had. The group I had been put in (everyone who wore a pink wristband) was partnered with Dr Colin Bradford (Meabh Quinn) and Nurse Betsy Conybear (Jack Beresford). Quinn, who played a suave and slightly arrogant young man, contrasted well to the shuffling hunchback lady portrayed by Beresford. Both of them took on a voice that was different to their own and this really helped us to stay in the world of the murder, to think for ourselves about who killed Stirling Dollair (Satya Baskaran). This was the business friend of Club de Pompidou owner, Samantha de Pompidou (played assuredly by Jackson). Dollair was killed very suddenly, soaked in blood from gunshots. No one could have seen ‘who did it’. He later appeared mysteriously after being conjured by the animated psychic, Madame Lola (Laurs Oakley).
The piece gets its name from a time machine named ‘The Magic Hour 5000’, at first broken by an eager but clumsy policeman (Sarah Allwright). However, the audience are later informed by the two DJs (Chaz Webb and Marcus Paragpuri) that it requires an AAA battery. This was a clever writing device, which linked back to the opening when two magicians (Lucy Price and Lydia Stone) gave this to a random audience member (lovingly named ‘Suzette’) for volunteering for a trick of theirs.
Such is the case with all murder mysteries, the culprit was revealed in a ‘parlour room scene’ with all present in the room. Rather than rely on the knowledge of a detective though, the time machine revealed the murderer itself, and Kevin was raised high up for all to see. Strafford-Taylor lip-synced over a vocal recording of Kevin making his confession while narrow beams of light followed and kept attention on the latter. This created an illusion that the Magic Hour was in full control of the investigation and perhaps made some audience members feel disheartened that they could not solve the crime themselves. Of course, this is all part of the immersive experience. Audiences could ask the characters whatever they liked, but none of the groups on this occasion managed to detect the criminal. In many ways the writer would have been pleased by this; both him and the rest of the cast did enough to ensure that Kevin was not accused.
A very dynamic production, which made good use of space in the club as well as outdoors where each suspect could be questioned. We were give our opportunities to interact with the performers but the characters were still very much in control, keeping all the detective groups well organised as well as encouraging us to solve the mystery. Credit must go to Jackson for staging his idea in a venue fit for the young people of Birmingham. Hopefully this will be the start of more arts-based events in the Digbeth area.