I remember staying up all night as a teenager to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in one sitting as a teenager, a German translation admittedly and not the original text from 1886. The hypnotic narrative and tension made me regret years later still that Dr. Frankenstein’s fellow researcher Dr. Jekyll did not get as much attention in the Penny Dreadful series – both characters are equal icons of England’s gothic literature and Victorian era.
For the Vault Festival Fire Hazard Games have created the immersive theatre scavenger hunt Jekyll / Hyde around London’s Southbank. We are around 15 people tonight, mostly in pairs, one group of three and some people on their own – each team receives a map and a briefing on rules, security and the accessibility of the locations we will venture out to, repeatably emphasizing that this is a non-competitive game and our task is to track down clues to our own lost memories of last night. What happened after we drank a certain serum?
People in flat shoes I suggest having joined before rush off as soon as they can and we’ll see them later, crossing red lights and shouting at each other over streets. We thank the stuff for some additional support with our mobile phones as these will guide us around the Vaults and further through South London – at each place riddles wait for us and we can only move forward once these have been solved. Who would have thought that first hints hide already in Leake Street’s graffiti art works?
We begin with the closest point near County Hall and afterwards pick what seems the furthest, close to Southwark Underground station. In the intro they made us aware that one cannot see and solve all action points in the time given but despite the constant FOMO this caused we keep being busy for the next two hours. It has been a sunny winter day, almost spring-like, and we enjoy an evening without rain – no need to wear the hoodie I packed for tonight. Our tasks guide us through Dickensian alleys, passing stagy highlights like on a Lambeth theatre route: The Waterloo East Theatre and the yet to be visited Bookshop Theatre, The Young and also The Old Vic – here we get stuck at our second riddle, so focused that we forget to read and move on instead to the other two questions available.
Just when we realize that we have lost our printed map, the software alerts us that there are 30 minutes left and that everyone should assemble back in Lower Marsh for the finish. Here a public vote opts for spreading the serum secretly to the general public, obviously in the name of science – a bitter decision given the current news, but the only alternative to prison or asylum. Apparently, we have been the best-behaved group so far, meaning the least dangerous one, with others opting for more murders and violence to get the story moving. For us it is not entirely clear how clues and answers have influenced the story, even though we have been to five locations and more. It is a subtle ending rather than a big Victoriana finale. Thinking of it, this year has brought more intense immersive theatre already. However, my step counter loved this homage to Lambeth and I declare the open air season 2020 kicked off!
Written by William Drew, developed by Fire Hazard Games
*** out of 5 stars
Jekyll / Hyde continues (as does the Vault Festival) until 22 March
Tickets from £21