For those of us working from home during the summer and beyond, to escape Zoom may be one of our most treasured ambitions but there’s no doubt that the platform has radically changed the face of work. It has transformed the world of theatre, too, allowing shows to be performed to live audiences. But other groups, such as Coney, are pushing Zoom’s potentials even further to create virtual escape rooms where audience members must band together to solve a series of problems.
Escape Zoom starts a little shakily as the players are sent to find various objects from within their homes. It seems a little childish and there must have been fears that this kind of treasure hunt was going to continue for the whole 90 minutes. However, these easy tasks were useful as a team-building exercise, and as an icebreaker, especially as players can dial in from anywhere in the world. But the early games could have been more challenging, forewarning the difficult assignments ahead.
Alongside the puzzles is a backstory about David Finnigan, one of the creators, trying to catch a flight back to his home country, although how our skills in solving the problems affect his journey are unclear. Better is the other parallel story about the grande dame of escape zooms, Vera Quyon, who grew up on Coney Island. We are told that the escape room we enter is based on her ideas, but the two chambers we enter are a long way from New York’s faded seaside funfair.
Without going into any detail and giving anything away, the puzzles are tough and teams may have trouble in solving them. It helps that the Tassos Stevens is on hand to give hints and pointers, but it must be said that any help he gives is minimal. Pleasingly, the story is not too linear, and there are multiple tasks to be undertaken at once, meaning that they can be divided between the team, making sure that each player has something to do.
Sometimes the digital displays seem a little clunky and old-fashioned, but every link works smoothly ensuring that there is movement in your journey, but rather than stunning technology, Coney has focussed on the games and the riddles, the basis of any escape room. The internet is there to help you, but the answers to many of the questions won’t be found on Google. Instead, solutions depend on lateral thinking.
If only we had got to the more complex problems sooner, the show may feel more streamlined; as it is, the two sections are very different, and the party games of the first section could distance some players who are expecting to be bamboozled by word games and codes. Still, the solution to the final puzzle comes as a surprise, and it fits well with Coney’s portrayal of Escape Zoom as ‘meta.’ The best things come to those who wait.
Runs until 16 August 2020
Electric Dreams Online Festival Website