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'Crooks 1926' At King William IV

On a quiet road in Elephant and Castle, I enter an unassuming pub, get my hand stamped (I am now assigned to be a coal worker) and realise the entire building has been transformed in true Peaky Blinders-esque 1920s style, complete with themed drinks, gramophones, and a strict no-phones policy. As far as I am concerned, we are all here as members of the working class rallying for better working conditions at the height of an industrial revolution, and we are in the turf of the McDonald family, arguably comparable to the Shelbys.

Photo credit: Michael Kaltenborn

This is COLAB’s new immersive production Crooks 1926, and its sleekness is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; the transformation of the building and the chemistry and skill thriving between the members of the company continues to pleasantly surprise me for the whole almost three-hour session, which I was certainly not expecting.

Soon enough, we are introduced to the leaders of the family, known to friends as Wag and Wal, played by Angus Woodward and Simon Pothecary. They gather us together through drinks and song as we mourn the death of their father; we immediately feel a true part of the family’s personal business. The warmth quickly subsides, though, as the head of a rival gang bursts into the pub, demanding a debt of several thousand pounds to be raised by the end of the day; he is convincingly seething and frightening without dramatizing his role as the villain excessively. Our role is then to help the McDonalds raise this money, whether that be through horse betting, planning heists or recruiting contacts from around the city.

Photo credit: Michael Kaltenborn

Upon the subject of characterisation, this cast is at the top of their game in every unique persona they adopt. Benjamin Chamberlain manages to become a priest, a Scottish policeman and the Duke of Westminster all in the same night, inexplicably conjuring the impression he is everywhere all at once. Holli Dixon also deserves credit as Alice Diamond, the razor-sharp leader of the “Forty Thieves” gang; she has Wag and Wal bend to her every move and retains a no-nonsense approach towards raising the debt needed to be paid to the rival gang.

On its website, Crooks 1926 promises an immersive, entirely audience-driven narrative combined with game mechanics. However, the variety of activities on offer, including side missions, a secret underground murder plot and a whole cast of extra characters entering the story at different points, proves to be so much more than that. I can’t give enough credit to COLAB’s tech team as well; there is always someone on hand to answer the old-fashioned telephones (in character of course!) and signature riotous punk-rock accompanies dramatic sequences of the story in which we are encouraged to burst into action.

Photo credit: Michael Kaltenborn

Without revealing much to a potential audience member, in Crooks 1926 you can expect to experience a wedding, a fistfight in a basement, and bonding with random people over counting up money in a suitcase or planning a stakeout, all tied together by a breath-taking finale. The completely immersive piece runs on its own logic and is an absolute must-see for Peaky Blinders fans—it’s on until March 29th and tickets can be bought here.

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