The West – COLAB Tavern, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Bertie Watkins. Ben Chamberlain, Charlotte Potter and the Company

Director: Bertie Watkins

Yee-haw! COLAB are back. Unusually for an immersive theatre company, COLAB really understand what immersive means and in this tale of The Wild West every member of the audience is given plenty to do, whether that be breaking out of the county jail, giving evidence at a kangaroo court or delivering secret packages to your fellow cowboys. The West makes for an exciting evening, full of intrigue and, most importantly, fun.

COLAB’s last production was a Peaky Blinders adventure that remains head and shoulders above Immersive Everywhere’s The Rise, currently playing in Camden Market. In Crooks 1926 the audience was plunged into a crime racket that quivered with power struggles between gangland bosses and shook dangerously after the actions of saboteurs. In contrast, The Rise packs so many people into their show that there is nothing to do but admire the severe haircuts of the two leads playing the Shelby brothers.

In The West, the audience is small – about 25 or so – and the way that narrative plays out means you will interact with most of them in some way or another. It’s an intimate experience and it’s almost impossible not to become involved. Even as you enter the COLAB tavern in Borough, you are asked how your horses fared in the sandstorm. It’ll be rude not to come up with an imaginative reply.

But soon you are in a ramshackle church where Minister Francis leads the congregation in a rendition of John Denver’s Country Roads. Before the chorus is ended the sheriff barges in to arrest the minister for being involved in a gang that robbed a train and left three people dead. Francis is the sheriff’s son, but there is no room for nepotism in this one-horse town.

After this rousing beginning, every person’s experience will be different depending on whether you’re banged up in the jail with Francis, or commissioned to bribe the sheriff for his son’s release or it may be your job to interview the only survivor of the attack. Some aspects of this first half may be familiar to escape room fans.

The action moves fast and slickly, an impressive achievement seeing that there are only four main actors, each patient and fully invested in their roles. As Francis, Sam Skoog is suitably desperate and comes up with all kinds of ways to prove his innocence. He never breaks his character even when he’s faced with overeager audience members. He may be the villain, but he’s the villain you want to work with. Chris Keegan plays a hilarious judge while Grace Dunne and Owen Jenkins, Francis’s mother and father, are both stern disciplinarians. Butterfingers, the barman, also has a part to play.

With so much to do, and with a propulsive narrative that ensures that there is no repetition there is the scope to revisit The West and have a completely different experience. Of course, the end will be the same, but who wouldn’t want to relive such a climax which is joyously nostalgic of childhood games. Put on your Stetson, grab your bandana, get on your horse and ride into The West.

Runs until 1 October 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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