Fifth Column

Theatre, Fringe
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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It makes sense that a nation obsessed with TV shows like ‘Homeland’ would jump at the chance to be agents on a mission to uncover the truth behind a shadowy government organisation. And that’s just what the new ‘theatrical adventure’ ‘Fifth Column’ promises.
The intrigue begins before you’ve even arrived at your secret location in SE1. You are sent a video explaining the backstory. Then you’re asked to download an app and given further instructions. Once you reach your meeting point, you’re teamed up with other ‘agents’ and given walkie-talkies, plus details of your mission. After a few brief encounters with actors (and all your technology is finally working), you and your team are left alone to embark on a cryptic journey around the South Bank. You have to work together to follow directions, decipher codes and find clues. Among the tasks to complete are dropping off a suitcase in a phone box and discovering a secret microchip. The next time you have any face-to-face contact with the cast is during the interval (a chance to sit, warm up and get a drink) before you and the other groups join together to embark on the brief finale.
As with all immersive theatre, a delicate balance must be made between maintaining a compelling narrative while being open to audience interaction. This is where ‘Fifth Column’ loses its way. Although at times it feels like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story, it is ultimately participatory theatre. But it often isn’t clear how much you’re allowed to get involved – some audience members got a little too involved the night I saw it. Despite supposedly being a free agent (pun intended) in the first half, you’re heavily shepherded, and at the end you’re reduced, somewhat confusingly, to being a mere observer as the final scene unfolds.
‘Fifth Column’ is more of an ambitious treasure hunt than an engaging theatrical experience or even a successful immersive adventure. However, this doesn’t detract from how much fun it is. Wear comfy shoes, dress in warm clothes, go with a group of mates (teams comprise of five people), channel your inner Jason Bourne and just pray it doesn’t rain.



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