Rhianna Ilube on the new game-theatre show 1884 at Shoreditch Town Hall

The new game-theatre show, 1884 is an immersive anti-colonial playable theatre show inspired by the legacy of the 1884 Berlin Conference. Co-created by BAFTA-winning game-makers Coney and Susan Smith Blackburn Prize nominated theatre maker Rhianna Ilube, it comes to Shoreditch Town Hall next month.

Played around tables in the Town Hall’s iconic Council Chamber, participants form small family groups, collaborate on playful activities, and make choices about how to build their family community and make their house a home until it becomes clear that not everything is within their control. We caught up with Ilube to find out more about this show that explores how is history recorded.

Q&A with Rhianna Ilube

The Arts Dispatch – Q+A

What can you tell us about 1884?

1884 is an immersive-game theatre show, loosely inspired by the legacy and impact of the 1884 Berlin conference on the African continent. Audiences will be invited to become ‘family groups’ in a new fictional town, and engage in a series of fun, playful activities towards building  a new community. I don’t want to give too much away, but not all will be as it seems… there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. 

What was it that inspired you to write the show and at what point did it become clear that this could/would be an immersive experience?

I lived in Berlin for 2 years and was really inspired by the political work and awareness-raising of black activists in the city, who were intervening in the city’s landscape to ensure that the legacy of German colonialism was not forgotten or erased. I hadn’t heard about the conference until I moved to Berlin, and found that many people back in the UK also hadn’t heard of it. In January 2023, interactive arts charity Coney supported me, along with a group of artists and activists, to create a response piece to the history of the conference, and the start of 1884 was created. We wanted people to really ‘feel’ the dynamics of this history and so from the beginning, we knew it had to be interactive somehow. 

Have there been any challenges in creating the immersive elements of the show?

We’ve ‘played’ the show with 3 large audiences so far, and each time has been so different. Audiences are unpredictable, and this is of course a big creative challenge. Every night will be different – and we need to be ready and prepared for the show to go a number of ways, so we can make sure everyone has a good time and are looked after. There is no room for complacency! 

Of course, the topic and history we are exploring through this show is emotional and difficult for many. So we’ve done a lot of thinking about how the fictionalised setting is framed, and done work to ensure that 1884 is an enjoyable, caring and thought-provoking experience for all.  

How do you think audiences will react to the show?

I have my guesses, given how different audiences have played it in the playtest, and feedback we’ve received.. I don’t really want to pre-empt it though, because each individual will have a different experience. I’ve seen audiences play and react in many ways – from introspection, to anger at the history and present day conditions, to feeling empowered to reclaim certain spaces and histories. 

Is there anything you hope they take away from the experience?

I don’t want to prescribe a specific thing I hope people take away from the experience. I hope the show makes people really feel something, and that they are thinking about it long after the show ends. 

1884 is at Shoreditch Town Hall from 17 to 27 April 2024