Red Palace is an immersive, fairy tale inspired, theatrical experience at the eccentric Waterloo vaults. It begins with an exquisite three course meal (if you select this ticket option), which is a lavish buffet created by Annie McKenzie. This is followed by a grand introduction from the Prince (Eleanor Dillon-Reams) who is pompously crude. They then invite you to wander round the palace for the evening to “have a good time”. All the while, keeping an eye out for anyone talking about a prophecy that has been made about the death of the prince.
However once you are released into the palace, it doesn’t have the usual haphazard nature of immersive theatre. Instead it’s very structured and you witness each room for an allotted time, before being instructed to queue and wait for the next room. This lack of freedom is disappointing. The rooms themselves all have a different fable influenced character. From Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White to Hansel and Gretel and a creepy witch. The anecdote in each room is very disconnected to the main plot, and some are completely irrelevant to the main story of the show. By chance, the first two rooms I entered involve a song that is lip synced. Which then ends abruptly with a sickly love story ending that is quite insignificant to the mystery of the prophecy. You are also invited to sit down in most of these rooms, so it feels less immersive and more like a traditional show in this sense.
The dank and dingy Waterloo Vaults are an idyllic setting for the Red Palace. It’s a convoluted labyrinth of rooms that has an eerie underground atmosphere. The set is pleasingly disgusting, with grand baths, cabaret clubs and wet smelly woods, they have successfully created another world. The costumes are equally as mesmerising and include extravagant head dresses, and ghostly vales.
The actors are extraordinary in their ability to control an enthusiastic (and slightly tipsy) audience. Each actor is truly captivating and Steffi Walker’s singing as the Mermaid is beautifully resonant. Emer Dineen and Emily Essery are particularly enjoyable as Hansel and Little Red Riding Hood. They act dynamically and engage the full audience with lively voices. The whole show is made up of female and non-binary actors, which is refreshing. This nod towards reversing the inequality of the arts is highly popular at the moment, and adds a nice touch to this production. It then allows an ending that is satisfyingly (if not a little undramatically) feminist.
Overall each aspect of Red Palace is performed with detail and witty fun- it has entertaining actors, a dramatic setting and an air of grandioseness. But it lacks a truly daring experience and feels too tame and systematic. This is especially true when you compare it to the work of Punch Drunk, a renowned company for their enthralling immersive experiences. For me, it falls short of what interactive theatre has the potential to be.