The Kindling Hour review – Arthurian legend meets Hitchcockian thrills | Theatre


What would a time traveller make of it? Someone arriving from 2019 would be perplexed to find this year’s most sociable night out involves six people logging on to their computers from their living rooms to play an intense game of puzzle-solving jeopardy.

And someone arriving from 2001 wouldn’t recognise the words to describe the experience: Zoom, YouTube, QR codes, Instagram, Wikipedia, Google Maps … none of these would be in their vocabulary.

In that sense, The Kindling Hour is of the moment. It’s an escape room-style game that uses online tools to compensate for the demands of social distancing. Throw in a suggestion of whistle-blowing, corporate malpractice and anti-corruption investigations, and you could hardly be more 2021.

Created by Ollie Jones and Clem Garrity of Swamp Motel, this is the third in a trilogy that began with Plymouth Point, in which your team goes on the trail of a missing woman, and continued with The Mermaid’s Tongue, in which you must stop an ancient artefact from falling into the wrong hands.

This time, we have to use ciphers, passwords and clues within clues to track down the elusive Ivy Isklander before the nefarious London Stone Consortium gets to her. If nothing else, our visiting time-traveller would have recognised a plot inspired by Arthurian legend and Trojan myth coupled with a Hitchcockian sense that the thrill of the chase is more important than whatever it is we’re supposed to be chasing.

As with The Mermaid’s Tongue, if it hadn’t been for my younger companions finding the solutions before I even recognised the questions, I reckon I’d still be playing now. What is beyond doubt is Swamp Motel’s technical achievement; in an era of glitchy wifi and accidental mute buttons, the presentation is seamless, the more so with its high-definition film sequences suggesting the big-screen blockbuster it aspires to be.

Like a blockbuster, it’s all about the intensity of the moment. As with similar online adventures, we don’t seriously care about the characters or engage in any idea deeper than the drive to solve the next riddle. It’s highly enjoyable, but wouldn’t our time traveller like to see these same techniques applied to something more resonant?

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