Ahh the 1980s – I remember that decade! The big hair, the shoulder pads, the red braces and leg warmers, Loadsamoney and conspicuous consumption, Sloane Rangers and Yuppies, Thatcher and Regan, casual (and not so casual) racism and sexism – what a decade! And through it all ran a certain type of action thriller – Die Hard, Miami Vice, Magnum PI, Lethal Weapon, Police Academy – well, perhaps not the last one. And it is this genre that the latest piece of interactive online theatre from CtrlAlt_Repeat seeks to emulate following their earlier lockdown success with Sherlock Holmes. Rejoicing in the name of Viper Squad, this is an homage to every film that ever had foreign villains, hostage situations and above all a ticking time bomb. And, despite the fact that I’d lay even money that many of the cast weren’t even alive or in their infancy then, they pretty much nail it. Just think of all that research they must have had to do – ah well, it’s not as if there’s been much else happening in the last six months.
The storyline is, to say the least of it, convoluted and you really need your wits about you – though that of course is the fun of it. The audience are rookie members of the Viper Squad a crime fighting unit who almost immediately find themselves assisting in solving a case of armed robbery in which hostages have been taken at Munroe Savings and Loans. The preliminaries consist of an introduction to the Zero Oversight Optimal Messaging system (look carefully again at that) so that operatives can communicate easily. It is then on to Control (Joanna Brown) who uses a personality quiz to sort the participants into teams. I found myself in the Intelligence Team (stop laughing at the back there!) rejoicing in the codename Blue Armadillo, working under the direction of Dr Peter Poindexter (James Dillon) and considering a shortlist of suspects. That we eliminated the mastermind behind the heist far too early was, perhaps, unfortunate but didn’t spoil the fun.
What follows is at times head-scratchingly baffling but certainly gives your brain a good workout. There are codes to crack, riddles to solve, Neville, a mild-mannered hostage (Edward Cartwright) to save, armed robbers to take out and criminal mastermind Alpha (Anna Sambrooks) to unmask. Ultimately there’s a ticking time bomb to defuse – of course there is! I have to say I was very pleased with myself for working out the code to allow access to the bomb’s wiring though not quite so hot when it came to deciding which of the coloured wires Neville should cut – I’m afraid I would have blown us all sky high but other voices thankfully prevailed and we lived to fight another day.
The ingenious storyline by James Dillon and directed by David Alwyn and Sid Phoenix is pretty relentless and I suspect would suit online gamers far better versed in this sort of action workout than your humble reporter. Personally, I would have liked a bit more time to contemplate what needed to be done – but then reducing the speed of play would probably not have suited others. In any case playing this sort of thing at breakneck speed echoes the genre which is being spoofed and means there is no time to spot any inconsistencies (not that there were any, I’m sure). What this means, given that there’s lots of group interaction, is some pretty quick thinking on the part of the actors. This is mostly very smoothly done, although as it’s early days with this particular piece, there is a sense that the team are still feeling their way here and there. In particular, a way needs to be found to make the teams more equitable both in terms of numbers and in interaction with the scripted characters – this last is mostly left to one set of people to carry out.
The design element (Rebekah Finch) and original music (Rachel Waring) add value to the experience and keep the scenario firmly in a bygone era. I especially enjoyed the pre-show cheesy adverts (some of which I remember – oh help) and the odd contemporary referencing. As most participants remain visible throughout, it might have been fun to ask them to costume appropriately too – as someone who still has some 80s originals I’d happily have turned vintage; that may well have been a sight too much for everyone else but would have added an extra layer to the experience. Thanks to CtrlAlt_Repeat for setting up a great social event in the nation’s living rooms; as one of THE films of the era had it – “Welcome to the party, pal!”*
*Feel free to guess which one by commenting below
Viper Squad plays on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays until November 22nd. Tickets are available through Eventbrite – click here
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