Bring Them Home, Vault Festival

Vault_Festival.jpg

by Meredith Jones Russell

In a galaxy far, far away, a short walk from the main Vaults site, the USA, USSR and European Union have assembled their finest scientists to bring an international space expedition safely back to earth.

Those scientists are in fact audience members, and so too is the astronaut trapped on a breaking spaceship, as well as the members of the press who are trying to get to the truth of what each country’s space agency is up to.

Bring Them Home is very much an immersive game rather than immersive theatre. Beyond a quick introduction, it is an entirely performer-free zone. All the roles are filled by the audience, and the team from Treehouse, which created the game, stay in the background keeping the game running.

Each space agency team is made up of six players, plus one astronaut and two members of the press, and the audience is sent their role and rules before arrival. Despite this, it’s not the smoothest introduction, as last-minute bookings have to be inserted into teams and late arrivals make the check-in process challenging. But the producers work very hard to make sure groups are kept together, and deliver this opening admin section with so much enthusiasm and charm it’s hard to be too distracted by it.

The game itself is superb. Intricately designed, there is enough here to keep both the hardened gamer and the newly initiated entertained. Each team receives six action points per ten-minute round, which they can use to scan space for obstacles, communicate with the astronaut, or upgrade their capabilities. They can also choose to team up with rival space agencies or sabotage their work, all the while trying to gain the approval of the circulating members of the press, who dispatch the all-important prestige points at the end of each round which ultimately decide the winner.

The Treehouse team work wonderfully well to juggle all the elements of the game and keep everyone on track, with two game moderators controlling the ‘plot’ and an assistant assigned to each team to make sure everything is clear.

The format is highly engaging, although it lives or dies on its audience members. Speeches by the press and cameo appearances from famous astronauts, all improvised by the audience, run a fine line between entertaining, assured lessons in public speaking, and extended spotlights on attention-seekers. Enthusiasm is great, but there’s the potential for the experience to be overshadowed by the most gung-ho players. It’s definitely advisable to go in your own group and take the opportunity at booking to specify who you would like to team up with.

Cleverly, though, individual tasks do give everyone at least one chance to shine, and two hours spent working together with team members can genuinely allow new friendships to blossom over wiretapping, crises in international relations and vital systems maintenance testing.

With the right people, then, thanks to its sheer creativity and heart, Bring Them Home is absolutely out of this world.

Bring Them Home runs through 3 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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