The Grift, Bethnal Green Town Hall

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by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

On arrival at Bethnal Green Town Hall, we are split into groups, given a key each, and then given the opening spiel. Ben, a secret love child of Michael Caine and Marilyn Monroe, was raised by the hotel staff in the 60s at the behest of its owner to save the stars from a scandal.

Ben grew up a grifter – but just scamming people for fun rather than profit. Now he’s organised the biggest heist of all – a revenge scam on a rival grifter, Eddie Hammersmith. And he needs our help. But first we must prove our intelligence – by facing a series of tests around the hotel, and practising our con game on unsuspecting marks.

On the journey we meet the descendants of the hotel staff who raised Ben in the 60s – the intended beneficiaries of the final con on Hammersmith. This gives us a grand tour of this incredible building – and gives us a jolly good time while we’re doing it.

Each room is staffed by an actor brimming with energy, keen to find out what the tests are and what the final con job might be. They have stories of Ben and their grandmas; they have jokes galore and charisma by the bucketload.

The games are challenging enough to be entertaining, but usually fairly easy to crack in a couple of minutes. Those who have done escape rooms will be familiar with this kind of puzzle.

On the way, we have to learn to work together with the strangers in our group, and hopefully they’re keen on this too. My group are a delightful bunch and this happily added to the sense of camaraderie the show tries to generate.

By the time we reached the final con, I was genuinely giddy with excitement. This show aims to stimulate your competitiveness, creativity and sense of purpose, and it definitely succeeds.

It’s an escape room with a plot.

It’s The Crystal Maze in a posh hotel.

It’s a theatre show filled with puzzles.

It’s terrific fun.

The Grift runs through 25 March.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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