Why watch a show, when you can play a starring role?
While the idea of immersive theatre isn't new, the genre has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years, spreading its wings from straight-up plays to bars, dining experiences, kids entertainment and even art exhibitions. This summer, London is blessed with a raft of incredible immersive experiences, so check out our pick of the best and bag your tickets now before they run out.
Phantom Peak: An Immersive Open-World Adventure
Surrey Quays, from August 2022
Jump right in to a steampunk Wild West town, complete with a boat ride that floats along the river and into the bowels of Phantom Peak’s mountains. With over 30,000 square feet to explore, this is perhaps the most adventurous immersive experience ever to come to London and you’ll have your work cut out finding the clues to lead you through this story. It’s a fully open-world event, which means you won’t be guided or herded along a route: The town is yours to explore as you wish. Grab a drink from the tavern, play the arcades or make your way into any of the shops and houses you find along Main Street. Every character you meet may hold the answer to your questions and clues can be found everywhere from the walls of the buildings to the newspapers you can pick up along the way.
It’s an epic adventure - sessions are a whopping five hours long - which gives you an idea of the size of this project, and all ages are welcome (under 16s must be accompanied by an adult).
Phantom Peak is going to be the immersive event of the year, no doubt, so get your tickets now!
Wed - Fri: 5pm - 10pm, Sat & Sun: 11am - 4pm & 5pm - 10pm (two sessions)
Stranger Things: The Experience
Location to be revealed, from August 2022
By the time August rolls around, there’ll be hardly anyone in Britain who hasn’t caught up with season 4 of Stranger Things, the nostalgic 80s drama that took the world by storm.
So what better way to follow it up than by becoming the hero of Stranger Things: The Experience?
The fun kicks off at Hawkins Lab, where you’ll discover your own super power alongside Eleven, Dustin, Mike, Lucas, Max and Will and hopefully find a way to save the world’s unluckiest town from the brink of yet another disaster.
You’ll also be able to visit Mix-Tape, where 80s tunes are the order of the day and famous locations including Scoops Ahoy, Palace Arcade and Family Video are waiting for you.
Expect to spend an hour in Hawkins Lab with your new, Stranger Things friends, but hang around for as long as you like in the Mix Tape area, where the party continues until closing.
Guests are invited to dress in their finest 80s clobber, so dust off your shell suit and get ready for a journey deep into the Upside Down.
Tickets from £29.50
Wed - Fri: 5pm - 9pm, Sat & Sun: 11am - 9pm
Operation Black Door: An Immersive Theatrical Experience
Churchill War Rooms, 7-9 July 2022
Benefitting from an unbeatable location in the Churchill War Rooms, Operation Black Door goes all out to immerse you in the world of a World War II government organisation, where codes need to be cracked and the oncoming Nazi forces defeated. You’ll need to do a bit of prep for this one: Guests receive information on their character and storyline before they arrive, and the journeys are all based on the stories of real life, war-time heroes.
Once inside the historic venue, you’ll be tasked with solving missions and unlocking the secrets of both your fellow guests and the experience’s characters, before joining forces to piece your findings together.
The experience lasts approximately one hour and guests are encouraged to dress up to enhance the immersive atmosphere.
Thurs - Sat: 6:45pm - 10:45pm (entry slots every 15 minutes)
The Burnt City
One Cartridge Place, Woolwich SE18
It's impossible to talk about immersive theatre without mentioning Punchdrunk, who've been delivering world-class experiences since the turn of the century and seem to push the genre further with every production. Their latest, Burnt City is a typically dark take on the Fall of Troy. You'll be dropped into the city as Greece teeters on the brink of victory, but every neon-lit backstreet hides another secret and another chance to watch a sub-plot unfold. Do you follow one character to watch the whole story? Do you flit from room to room, taking in every scene and spectacle as it unfolds? Whichever you choose, know that when you head back outside into the daylight, all of your friends will have a different story to tell about The Burnt City - and you'll want to go back in to experience it from another angle.
Shows from 6:30pm (slots every ten minutes)
Tickets from £55
Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience
56 Leadenhall Street, from 1 June 2022
Jeff Wayne’s otherworldly music is the inspiration for this experience in the centre of London, where guests will be taken on a 5D journey to 1898, smack-bang in the middle of a war with some pesky aliens.
Grab a cocktail in The Spirit of Man, a steampunk bar and restaurant, before meeting up with journalist George Herbert, who’ll lead you through 24 scenes of Martian devastation. Combining live actors, Wayne’s music, virtual reality and 5D effects as you duck into the Royal Observatory, deserted houses and a boat, before making a daring escape to Mars. All in a day’s work when you’re battling an alien army.
The experience lasts approximately two hours and various time slots are available.
FOOD & DRINK
The Murdér Express Part Deux - Jewell of the Empire
Arch 63, Pedley Street E1, from June 1
Francophiles will already have deduced that this is part two of a successful immersive experience where guests take their seats on the Murdér Express at Pedley Street Station. We might have suspected something was up when a train pitched up with that name, but when the menu comes courtesy of a Masterchef professional, a little murder can be overlooked.
As you tuck in to a four-course meal aboard an ornate, 1920s carriage, you’ll be joined by Britain’s most famous archaeologist, Dr Errol Earhart. He decided to transport the world’s most valuable diamond on the Murder Express (c’mon, Doc! Alarm bells are ringing) and before long all hell breaks loose. Everyone’s a suspect - even you - so enjoy that meal, because it might be your last.
Trains depart at 6:30pm and 8:30pm
212 Brick Lane, E1
Step inside the world’s most infamous prison, where escape is impossible but - somewhat inexplicably - it’s pretty easy to smuggle in your own booze. Yep, this is a BYOB bar dressed up as a prison, and we’re 100% here for it. Once you’ve slipped into prison-issue, orange jumpsuits and delivered your illicit grog to the bartenders, they’ll get to work on fixing it up into a cocktail especially for you. Naturally, you can’t spend all evening milling around the bar, so you’ll be shown to your own cell where you can drink in peace, away from the riff-raff and criminals. Just make sure the warden doesn’t catch you - he seems a lot less keen on bending the rules than his gang of bent prison guards.
28-30 Houndsditch, EC3A
If prison isn’t your thing, maybe a trip to the Wild West is a more appealing night out? The King of the Moonshiners, Clyde Cassidy invites you to his bar, where illegally smuggled booze is welcome with open arms - in fact, it’s essential that you bring a bottle or two. If it’s starting to sound familiar, that’s because Moonshine Saloon is brought to you by the same people as Alcotraz, so you know you’ll be getting a top-notch experience packed full of brilliant actors, fully-immersive theming and a set that could’ve been lifted straight from a Hollywood movie.
Try your luck at cards or dice games and if you’re lucky, Cassidy himself might trust you enough to take you on a tour of his distillery. Arrive in plenty of time for the tailor to measure you up for a Wild West outfit and let your hair down in London’s finest cowboy outlaw bar.
Wed and Thurs: 7pm - 9pm
Fridays: 7pm - 8:50pm and 9:30pm. - 11:15pm (two sessions)
The Case of The Poisoned Chalice: Cocktail Experience
Ground Floor, West 12 Shopping Centre, W12
Sherlock fans will want to head for Doyle’s Opticians, in the West 12 Shopping Centre. It’s run by Sebastian Moran, right-hand man of Moriarty, and he wants to challenge you to a sneaky, cocktail-based test. Let’s be honest, any test that includes cocktails is already a step above GCSEs, but apparently failing this particular trial means creating a drink that’ll end your life.
Quite frankly, it’s a risk we’re willing to take - and a gauntlet we’ve walked before when the alcohol cabinet was running low on stock at 3am, so we fancy our chances.
Forgive us for lumping these experiences together, but it’s for a good reason. Immersive maestros Exhibition Hub have stumbled upon a winning new formula for exploring the work of the world’s greatest artists and, while it may be repeated across each site, that doesn’t mean their long list of forthcoming exhibitions aren’t all worthy of your attention. The premise is simple: Take some of the most famous paintings ever created, digitalise them and feed them into the computer of a technical wizard and out of the other end pops an immersive experience that allows guests to walk inside the art itself, through a mixture of 360 degree projection mapping and virtual reality.
Art fans who want to experience this edutainment (their word, not ours) have a list of exhibitions to choose from. Mexican Geniuses deals with Frida Kahlo and Diego Riveira, while individual exhibitions are offered for Claude Monet, Klimt, Dali, Magritte and Van Gogh.
100 Story Hotel
Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford, Until 31 July, 2022
Discover Children’s Story Centre serves up a Rob Biddulph wonderland for kids this summer, allowing them to spend a few hours inside the brain of the brilliant illustrator. It takes the form of a hotel, where Clive the Concierge - a polar bear - explains that there are currently only 99 stories, which for the numerically literate amongst you, means we’re one short. The kids are then sent to explore behind the various doors inside. Behind one, dogs are partying on a beach. Another hides a sushi restaurant run by Arctic animals. There’s even a shop where everything could be a clue as to the hiding place of that elusive, hidden story. It’s brilliantly colourful, exciting and innovative and a brilliant way for children to exercise their brains while having fun.
Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, SE1
Rumpelstiltskin is on the loose, and he’s causing all kinds of mischief for the characters of Far Far Away and beyond. Luckily, Donkey is on hand to give you a ride on his flying bus and Shrek and Fiona will join up with you as soon as they get the chance. Shrek’s adventure is a wild adventure through the land of children’s favourite ogre and actors, technology and immaculately created sets will make sure your children are engrossed from start to finish.
Westfield London Shopping Centre Ariel Way, W12
An indoor city run by kids might seem like a dystopian hell to some people, but trust us on this: Kidzania is the kind of immersive experience you’ll want to visit again and again. It’s an idea of unrivalled genius: Big brands sponsor areas of this scaled-down kids’ land, offering the opportunity to ‘work’ for the day. It allows your kids to create their own adventure, from taking the controls of a jumbo jet to becoming a firefighter, recording a radio show or jumping behind the checkout at a supermarket. Is it brainwashing your kids into becoming workers for The Man? Probably! Will they absolutely love it and want to go back? Definitely.
Want more? Check out more of London's best experiences by clicking below