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For King and Country review at Colab Factory, London – ‘a compelling immersive experience’

Christopher Styles and Zoe Flint in for King and Country at CoLab Factory. Photo Owen Kingston:
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In an alternate 1940, King Edward VIII is on the throne, Nazi troops are advancing through Surrey, and the British government has been all but wiped out. Casting its audience as a group of surviving MPs holed up in a secret bunker, Parabolic Theatre’s For King and County is a highly interactive, genuinely immersive performance.

Director Owen Kingston deftly balances detailed historical knowledge, audience agency, and just the right amount of structure to create a coherent and compelling experience. For much of the show, we circulate freely, trying our hands at military strategy, speechwriting, or subterfuge. However, the ongoing results of these mini-games continually impact on the unfolding story. A poorly worded speech triggers pro-fascist demonstrations. Sloppy map reading sees us accidentally bombing Canterbury.

Periodically, we sit in makeshift parliamentary sessions, debating ethical issues or responding to complications. While it starts out light-hearted enough, the audience’s quips are soon replaced by determined strategising as the rumbling of distant shelling grows louder.

The committed cast nudge the game along with continual, fluid improvisations, convincingly embodying their devised characters. Edward Andrews starts out all unflappable poise as Squadron Leader Muir, a thin veneer which disintegrates in the face of looming defeat. Zoe Flint’s no-nonsense flight officer gets too little to do, but finds time for one brief, moving outburst.

Peter Dewhurst, meanwhile, coordinates events as MP Remington-Hobbs, demonstrating a tremendous grasp of historic events, and an even more impressive ability to wittily deflect some of the audience’s weirder suggestions.

Is immersive theatre growing up or growing too big, too quickly?

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Verdict
Satisfyingly immersive theatre game that unfolds against a backdrop of brilliantly realised alternative history
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