Back in January (on my birthday actually), I managed to check out an immersive theatre-meets escape room experience by the name of Monroe & Associates.
Spoiler alert - I enjoyed this experience so much that I went back a couple of weeks later to watch my wife try her hand at Monroe & Associates (and I also recommended it to many other people who also attended and were blown away by the experience).
Monroe & Associates had about a 3 or 4 week run during the Sydney Festival in January 2018. It was run at Carriageworks in Eveleigh along with a number of other artistic productions.
Monroe & Associates was created by Tim Watts, a performer, director, puppeteer, improvisor and animator based in Perth. Tim's shows have won various awards and are currently touring all over the world.
I was lucky enough to have Tim as my game master/actor on the day - it was fantastic having the creator run my experience. When my wife had her experience, another fantastic actor named Arielle Gray was her game master/actor.
According to The Last Great Hunt's website, the backstory of Monroe & Associates (M&A) is as follows:
M&A was 72nd room in Australia and our 59th room in Sydney.
- from a design perspective, the set up is incredibly well considered. Monroe & Associates is run out of a caravan. You start the experience with a briefing outside of the van, where you are handed your hat and key and the rest is up to you. What they have created inside an old caravan is so clever (and it is of course portable);
- the room isn't a true escape room. There are escape room aspects such as hunt and seek fun and unlocking locked items, but it is much more about the interactive "choose your own adventure" storyline. The main mechanic used throughout the experience is a telephone. You can pick up the phone and the operator will connect you with anyone in the world - you really are limited only by your imagination;
- the story is incredibly well-written. There are a number of aspects that you can investigate and you really do control the experience. I have spoken with 5 people who have all tried M&A and all 6 of us had very different stories and endings;
- going into this experience, I was nervous for two main reasons. The first was that it was all on me - I wasn't with my usual team, so if I got stuck on puzzles or situations I would have no help at all. The second reason was that I am not an actor and the possibility of having to act freaked me out a little. I was wrong on both counts. The game master will absolutely help you get through the experience and on the acting front, you can do as little or as much as you like;
- I really enjoyed this room from the second it began, but when I started to get into the role of Frankie Monroe, the level of fun ratcheted up so quickly. There were a couple of sections where Tim had me laughing so hard I couldn't speak. He plays so many different characters in this experience and he is an expert at voices (so much so that at the end of the experience, I asked him where the other cast members were and he said it was all him). His character (Sister Jansis) from the orphanage was my favourite!
- as usual I won't be giving any spoilers, but I think I can talk about a couple of aspects of my experience without ruining the storyline. The best aspect of this experience for me was that Tim is an improv actor and could therefore completely adapt the story to me. In one particular "scene" of the story, a person on the phone asked me if I would give a donation to her cause. I begrudgingly agreed but I gave her a fake name (I told her I was "John Smythe" rather than Frankie Monroe). Later in a completely different scene, I telephoned a hospital and wouldn't you know it, John Smythe was working on reception at the hospital that particular day and he took my call. I then played around with this character a few more times during the experience. To me, this was the clearest example of how live actors can add immersion to an experience. It was very clever and hands down the most immersive element I have been part of in an escape room (or an escape-room like experience such as this); and
- going back and watching my wife play the role of Frankie Monroe was so much fun. I watched her via a number of video feeds and I managed to chat with Arielle throughout. It was fascinating seeing how different her storyline was from mine and how she approached challenges. Her ending had me in fits of laughter ;-)