1884 review – Shoreditch Town Hall, London ★★★★☆

Photo: Alex Brenner

Review by Ethan Skillman

1884, based on the 1884 Berlin conference where the European colonisation in Africa was regulated, might be the most unique piece of theatre I have ever seen – and as an immersive game experience, everybody’s experience will be different.

When the performance started, every audience member became a new resident of Wilhelm Street. We were encouraged to join a household of up to seven people. There we became a new family unit, with our own name (Roots Forest), traditions (a weekly rabbit race), and even our own special knock. We were then made aware of a meeting that had commenced about the future of Wilhelm Street. This meeting (that we weren’t allowed to be a part of) began to enforce rules which the house of Roots Forest was not happy with.

I shall leave my retelling of events there as I do not wish to spoil the show for potential audience members – especially the second act, which is best experienced without foreknowledge. I will say, however, that this show is incredibly inventive. It would be interesting to see how different audiences react to the different situations. I was in a particularly rebellious group and that only grew as the first act progressed, with me worrying we could possibly break the show at certain points. This had all clearly been taken into consideration though, as the actors handled every surprise in their stride with witty improvisations and perfect crowd control to bring us back to the main plot.

Photo: Alex Brenner

My only criticism of the whole show was the timing of some of the sections. After we completed the first tasks such as choosing the name, there was still a lot of time left before the next part started. This led us to get ahead of the curve by doing some things before we were supposed to, as we thought that was correct. This may have just been an issue at our table, and we may have been quicker than other groups, and the timing of these sections may develop with more performances.

I am quite a socially anxious person in new scenarios and was concerned that it could be difficult to properly immerse myself in the production with new people, but the team made sure to put everything in place to make sure we were all comfortable, which I commend. There was a break-out space with a quiet room that could be used, should anyone need it and there were always members of staff visible to talk to which instantly relaxed me and helped me get fully into the show. Overall, I think 1884 is an important experience that is fun and has a clear message throughout, and could be particuarly engaging for young adults. Wherever 1884 goes next, I will be sure to keep my eye on it.

1884 is at Shoreditch Town Hall until 27 April