REVIEW: CODE 2021 (Secret Studio Lab) ★★★★


If you’re ever looking for something thrilling to do in London, Secret Studio Lab has the answer you’re looking for. Returning after sold-out immersive productions of SE7EN in Hong Kong and a secret Tarantino Adaptation this summer in London, both adapted and directed by Richard Crawford. Crawford now returns with another immersive experience in the form of Code ‘2021’.

Due to the Fight Club-esque secrecy that the Secret Studio Lab encourage, to avoid giving away too many details I’ll simply state that this performance involved a high-profile court case set not so far in the distant future, with the audience in the role of live jury.

The venue was spectacular and fitted the content of the play to perfection. We had the opportunity to spend time in different locations within the same venue, which meant that we were constantly kept alert and entertained – if you remember the excitement you used to feel as a child when going on a school trip, that’s very much how it felt being guided around from room to room.

This was the absolute epitome of ‘immersive’ theatre, relying heavily on the input of an audience, without whom the production would be impossible to operate. As the drama played out, it was fascinating to observe how the twists and turns of the plot inspired mounting participation and passion from members of the audience, forcing us to confront our own moral and ethical viewpoints. It revealed the complexities of the justice system, and the challenges involved with sentencing a defendant. It was deeply satisfying to walk away from a piece of theatre feeling challenged, both intellectually and emotionally.

If you’re a fan of theatre, you’ll love it. If you aren’t a big fan of theatre, you’ll love it. The reality is that, when done well, it has something that will appeal to everyone.

Strangers found themselves locked in fiery debates, in some cases pulled together into teams of support and in others, divided by their differing. Evoking such a strong reaction to a piece of fiction must be a triumphant moment for Crawford and his creative team. On reflection, I bet this would be a psychologist’s dream, as it was like observing a kind of social experiment.

This particular production harnessed a great number of important contemporary issues – racial profiling, religious conversion, class – and several psychological challenges, requiring us to pay rapt attention and try to gather the facts to form our own opinions. Secret Studio Lab are now known for the poignant attention they give to modern culture in their performances, and there is a strong sense of warning against commercialisation and technology in human affairs, issues of which make the content feel accessible and absolutely crucial.

The writing of the performance was overall very realistic, with a suitable amount of legal vernacular and convincing dialogue. The actors were not evenly matched in terms of ability – some were very good, whilst others were not up to par – but this was forgivable. The main thing that could be improved was the improvised scenes, whereby we the audience had the opportunity to ask the prosecution and defence a number of questions about the case. Some of the answers had been planned for in advance and were answered smoothly, but others clearly caught them off guard. In future, it would be beneficial for the actors to consider every single possible angle and be prepared for it. Nevertheless, the actors handled the bombardment of questions well, and the banter going on at times between audience and cast was fantastic.

Immersive theatre is something that I think everyone should experience at least once in their lives. If you have the chance to take part in one, I implore you to give it a try. If you have a chance to go and see a Secret Studio Lab performance specifically, I insist you arrange it without a moment’s hesitation – you will not regret it.

Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Secret Studio Lab

CODE 2021 plays until October 20th 2016