All The King’s Men (Review – Online)

All The King’s Men (Review – Online)

The prolific Chronic Insanity from Nottingham are at it again. Not content with a “twelve plays in twelve months” challenge in both 2020 and 2021 (and in fact they can legitimately claim to have doubled that target number last year), they are avowedly going for it again for the third year running. Not wasting any time their first piece – they don’t do plays as such – has already launched via the Living Record Festival which is on for the next month. Called All The King’s Men it’s a cunningly arranged and slickly produced interactive experience making use of websites, video, audio, emails, taking place both indoors and outdoors in which you will utilise more than one device and be left reeling by its ingenuity.

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It starts off in classic Hitchcockian style with a McGuffin – a little known but missing (dead? kidnapped? politically detained prisoner?) musician known as the Princess and an appeal via her fan site to help track her down. Before you find the source of the link which will take you to the next stage – and you do have to carry out a thorough search – you can entertain yourself with reading a short biography, listening to some music clips and generally appreciating site owner “Connor”’s dedication in trying to solve a mystery. You are then introduced to the mysterious contact “Spatial Badger” who seemingly gives you a fuller picture of what’s really going on and sends you off to investigate some rooms in Kumospace a virtual online meeting space platform. As far as I can tell (and I don’t know a lot about these things) this is a real online tool being put to use for this piece so – word of warning – be careful what you’re signing up for! I actually spent far too long wandering around, building myself a virtual room and playing a couple of games which, it turned out had nothing to do with the main event but were fun anyway. One was chess and I’d convinced myself that the title of the piece was an allusion to the game and therefore important; not so it seems.

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It is one of those events where you have to pay careful attention to what you are being asked and told and as midnight was fast approaching I abandoned the task until the following morning and then concentrated on getting things done. It actually becomes an immersive thriller from thereon in with you playing the main part. There’s further contact from Spatial Badger and Connor, at least one of whom is not all they seem, and having made a vital discovery you are sent out onto the streets on a mission and then back to base for the denouement which you get to influence. In truth I found myself rather baffled in the first third and had to reach out via Twitter for support from Chronic Insanity; I was graciously got back on track without the solution actually being spelt out, so I was grateful for that.

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All The King’s Men is a thoroughly immersive piece helmed by Joe Strickland. It builds on some of the best of the group’s work from last year and, if you enter into the spirit of it, is a highly unusual and even intense piece of online gaming/theatre which once again stretches the bounds of the possible. It also has a serious point to make about how public figures can easily fall foul of political regimes and find themselves on the wrong side of the authorities; the case of last year’s “missing” Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is a particular reference point. And, of course, with so much political chicanery washing about in our own system currently, it provides an interesting commentary about some of the shadowy figures which are maybe controlling current events in this country.

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I nominated Chronic Insanity as one of my 21 For 2021 picks last year for their staggeringly high output which consistently challenged and innovated. As they are already posting notices about their next two projects called Directorship and Secure. Contain. Protect it seems their ambitious streak is set to continue into this year as well. I can’t wait to see what they will come up with next.

All The King’s Men is available from Chronic Insanity via the Living Record Festival – click here

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