‘Variant 31’ review

Theatre, Interactive
2 out of 5 stars
Variant 31
© Tom Grace

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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This immersive zombie-killing experience misses by a long shot

There’s a lot of big talk around ‘Variant 31’. It’s billed as an incredibly complex fear-fest, as close as you’ll get to gaming IRL, so much so that its opening was pushed back twice. And since 90 percent of my friends refused to join me prior to my visit (wimps), surely, I thought, this had to be good. And by good, I mean shit-your-pants terrifying.

As we approached for our midweek slot, green lights shone through the windows with a menacing glare. Smoke bellowed from the tattered New Oxford Street building complex it’s housed in, congealing with blobs of rain and fogging up the street below. It would have been creepy if we hadn’t been waiting out there for 45 minutes while it ran behind schedule. 

Still, once you’re inside things ramp up. Sour-faced ‘lab staff’ thrust you into hi-tech geara light-up military vest with a pretend gun. Then a safety briefing happens (goal: collect points by tapping your bracelet on hidden scanners and kill zombies) and then you’re thrown into the belly of the beast, along with a burgeoning dose of hyper-vigilance. 

There’s a husk of a plot here. A (not so) brilliant scientist has concocted a serum to reanimate the dead. What could go wrong? Well, everything, it turns out – because his experiment went tits up and now the undead are gonna getcha. Oooooo.

But despite the actors putting up a good fight (often having more fun with their elaborate deaths than we do), things are mostly one-note. Your actions don’t seem to make any difference, scares become predictable, the tech didn’t work properly and we didn’t see any sign of the promised bars, nightclub or aerial performers within. In fact, as we neared the 70-minute mark, I wished I had my own poisoned syringe so I could join the brain-dead hordes.

The real tragedy is that there’s potential to this immersive adventure. The end scene plays out with some much-needed urgency. The shadowy building is eerily easy to get lost in. But for now, the novelty factor just doesn’t cut it. ‘Variant 31’ may have already postponed its opening twice, but to survive it’ll need another reboot. 

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