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Whatever You Do, Don’t Be the Butler

December 4th 2021

From the intrigue and drama of a Tudor court to heart racing thrillers, books are the perfect window into reality... without having to engage with any of the physical or mental effort of actually doing anything.

Despite my love of reading and for the quiet of a solitary dive into another world, sometimes it is also fun to share these worlds with others. The rise of immersive theatre experiences, locations and events sharing fictional experiences in recent years is surely testament to this. It turns out, however, that putting one of these on, is rather harder than it looks. A lesson I learnt when I was asked to plan and direct an improvised murder mystery event for a Gala.

After a couple of somewhat slapdash rehearsals and an unanticipated event theme change...

We arrive at Maddingley Manor (an appropriate name for the scene of heinous crimes to be), dressed up, rehearsed and ready to go. The event organiser appears — the ghost of bad tidings — to let us know that none of the guests have been told that the performances will be happening and instead had been told that a ‘mystery event’ would be taking place over the evening — okay.

Oh - and the other thing? Well, there was no stage.

In other words, the show would begin in the middle of a huge, crowded room of people beginning to get a little tipsy, and the performers would not be elevated or separated from the party crowd at all.

At this point I was quite concerned.

But, given there was really nothing I could do, and feeling quite relieved I wasn’t in the performance, I decided to hope for the best and wandered towards the hall to await the beginning of the drama...

The first scene, a fight between two of the female characters intended to build suspense and suspicion, began.

Cue: one large security guard thinking a real fight has broken out and menacingly pushing his way through the crowd to intervene (the staff had also not been told what the ‘mystery event’ was)...

...and several hundred very confused people not entirely sure where the noise is coming from and definitely not feeling high levels of suspense; and, as I learnt a couple of years later, one very stressed out party attendee who fled to the bathroom.


Reader, I must confess: I quietly slipped away and decided to enjoy the rest of the party, abandoning my actors to their fate.

Our murder mystery more a comedy of errors, I learnt that evening that I would in life only ever get my fill of whoddunits from within the safe confines of a book.

Tonight, as I watch friends bravely step into the night, off to an immersive murder mystery dinner, I think I will stand by my post Gala convictions and stick to the thrillers, currently Sharon Bolton’s The Pact. But for those of you braver than I, some short but sweet input from my brother, when attending a murder mystery event:

“Don’t be the butler”.

My advice:: stick to the books!

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