Writer: Tom Salamon
Director: Tom Salamon
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
All theatre depends on a certain suspension of belief, but this new immersive experience by Tom Salamon, who brought us 2016’s Goosebumps Alive, starts by asking us to swallow some unusually tall stories. But with much immersive theatre, the story is less important than the act of participation, and in The Grift we are very much involved in the action. The narrative soon plays second fiddle to the other fiddles going on.
The implausible proposition is that Marilyn Monroe and Michael Caine once had a fling and to save both their careers, the love child of this tryst was hidden in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. Here, the hotel staff became his adopted family, and it is here where he learnt to become a con man. And now he wants to pass on these scams, these grifts, to us. It’s not for nothing that the play’s subtitle is A Practice in the Art of Deception.
The facts that Monroe had died before Caine really hit the big-time, and that the Town Hall Hotel was actually a town hall until it was transformed into a swanky hotel in 2010, fortunately don’t matter as the audience of 50, gathered in the hotel’s De Monfort Suite, a very upmarket bedroom, are quickly split into teams of five. With a series of coloured boxes and matching keys, each team heads off deeper into the hotel, and in reward for solving various puzzles they get to learn a con.
It would be mean to divulge any of these games, or any more details of the hustlers we meet on our 2-hour journey, but suffice to say that it is enjoyable. The cast of seven do well to keep to time, and there is never any hanging around, although to obtain this slickness sometimes the actors are forced to give us a few hints in the best way to crack the riddles. Daniel Millar and Laura Kirman, with their London accents, seem particularly believable with their backstories.
As we wander around the corridors of this smart hotel, there is the sense that The Grift is nothing more than an advertising gimmick by The Town Hall. We are taken to all the right, and sometimes magnificent, venues which it seems, if we had the money, we’d want to return to on another day. And as you’re grouped with strangers, the hotel setting lends The Grift a shiny corporate feel; it’s almost as if you are on a team-building exercise for work.
The climax – the long-con – is excitingly staged, though the room deserves as much applause as the cast. Again, the timekeeping of the actors is impressive here and it’s hard not to be caught up in the enthusiasm of Dylan Allcock and Alastair Kirton. Leaving the hotel, or even moving into the bar where your ticket allows you a 20% discount, there is the sense that you’ve been on an away-day for work. But at least you’ve learnt some tricks that, if you have the nerve, may make you somewhat richer in the future.
Runs until 25 March 2018 | Image: S Rylander