You sit in a room in front of your computer and put a blindfold on. A mysterious voice greets you and tells you about the rules for the night. Two hours later you emerge, exhilarated in equal measure by the magical world crafted by Morpheus and the power of your own aural imagination that makes it come alive.
Manor of Lies is a new online interactive audio play by the theatre company Morpheus that invites you to solve a Regency-era murder mystery using only your intuition and some help from your fellow audience members. What separates it from other digital theatre shows is that the experience is audio-only – you join the show on Zoom and put on a blindfold that stays on throughout the night whilst a skilled group of performers lead you by the ear (literally) inside the world of the experience and the different locations, characters and storylines it contains. Written by Angus Yellowlees and performed by a different ensemble of actors every night, I was led into the dark (again, literally) by Simon Kingsley and Sue Swallow who did a stellar job of making me feel safe, comfortable and heard whilst I navigated this world.
Manor of Lies starts with a dastardly blackmail note that plagues Lord Dante Rochester, a notorious playboy and rogue, who has urgently requested your presence at his beautiful country house where he relies on your presence, wit and sleuthing skills to uncover the suspect behind this malicious activity. However, when you arrive at the Manor things don’t go exactly as Lord Rochester had planned as the blackmail turns into a murder. Amongst other disturbing things, you find a blood-stained handkerchief, a broken syringe and a whiff of cyanide in the air, all of which serve as critical clues for you and your group to solve the mystery. From the bumbling butler and the curt housekeeper to the elusive friend and a mysterious doctor, you are tasked with uncovering their motives. What stands out about this show from other murder mysteries is that they fully acknowledge your presence as a real, breathing character in the story by addressing you directly by your name (prefixed with a fictionalized ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’ thrown in given the show’s setting) and asking you what it is that you’d like to do. You can explore different rooms of the Manor, examine different household items for possible clues, question the suspects about their relationship with the deceased and much more. What’s also interesting is you’re making these decisions with the group, making this a unique experience for the family or a group of friends looking for an engaging, fun and imaginative virtual night out.
Given the interactive nature of the show, the experience feels particularly tactile, even if it’s a digital one. As Morpheus announce at the beginning of the show “Everything you do in the show, you do it as a real human being” and further state on their website “.. There is no pre-destined end to the story… The decisions you’ll make will create different outcomes, leading you down a wonderfully wacky path or a slippery slope to doom: you can decide.”, the audience is firmly in the driving seat. Naturally, the lack of a closed, linear narrative can lead to complex storytelling paths (or ‘decision trees’ as more frequently known in the data world). Responding to an audience’s question after the show concluded, the writer Yellowlees added “There is extensive writing to support every small and big detail in this world – from clues and red herrings to sub-plots and character backstories – the audience can ask anything! While they’ll never explore the entirety of this world within a single show, we have it all laid out.”. By relying on the audience’s ears to do the imagining instead of the eyes, the show also succeeds in unlocking our aural memories (and by extension, the feelings and emotions we associate with certain sounds) and serves as a welcome relief from the communal screen fatigue we seem to be witnessing after a full year of being locked down at our homes.
To summarize, Manor of Lies is an interactive experience that will surprise and delight you alike with its innovative use of technology, non-linear storytelling and fantastic world-building.
You can immerse yourself in the Manor of Lies and other online immersive shows by Morpheus on their website: https://morpheus-show.co.uk/manor
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 25th March 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★
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