I'm a big point-and-click computer game fan. Knightmare is my favourite TV show of all time, ever. So when news of a new concept in interactive storytelling made itself known to me, I was totally onboard. I've already done one of the rooms at The Cryptic Escape on Tombland, and loved it. Now History Mystery has arrived at the Guildhall. I took four of my bestest, and brightest lady friends along with me to try it out.
The Guildhall is perhaps a building we all take for granted in Norwich. Located right opposite Tesco, it's actually the largest surviving medieval civic building outside London, bettered only by London's much bigger Guildhall, built four years after Norwich’s, probably in a fit of jealousy when the Mayor at the time saw Norwich’s and wanted a lovely building of his own.
The first flint was laid in 1407 and it has been in continuous service to Norwich ever since. It was our City Hall right up until 1938 when the new one was built across the road, but it does still house the Sheriff of Norwich’s office. The building is more famously known as a gaol and housed various courts over the years. The first prisoner was held there in 1412, and prisoners occupied these cells right through to 1985, when the last magistrate court was held. That court is now a café, where you can still see the judges bench, witness box and dock all around the café. That cafe is now run by Britannia, a social enterprise that provides employment opportunities for present day prisoners on day release, so the building is now being used for rehabilitation rather than incarceration.
The prisoners cells in the Guildhall are the extraordinary setting for our game. It's dark, atmospheric and the ghosts and memories of prisoners float around you as you enter. There's loads of original graffiti on the walls, and not much has changed since the last prisoner was here in 1985. We're given an enthusiastic and fascinating rundown of the history of the building and an explanation of what we can expect by Pip Willett, our games master. We get a padlock to practice using, and an outline of the story we'll be entering into. And what is super cool is that this story, which we'll be solving, actually happened right here in the Guildhall, back in 1851.
On a late June day in 1851 a gruesome discovery was made as the first of many unidentified body parts turned up on the streets of Victorian Norwich. In the game you fall under suspicion for the crime and must work against the clock to piece together the evidence to convict the real murderer and find true justice for the victim. You have one hour to absolve yourself and your team and escape the cell in which the game takes place.
I obviously can't tell you what went on in that cell. I can't tell you the many twists and turns our puzzle-solving took along the way, the revelations that we had, the red herrings and mistakes we made. Because hey, no spoilers, right? What I can tell you is that it's bloody brilliant. Pip watches us all through a camera, following our progress (or sometimes, lack of progress), and there's a screen in the room where he send through hints if he thinks we need them. And we do need them. There's also a few pieces of video footage shown to us when we reach certain key points in the story. It's a race against time, solvable only by working as a team, communicating lots (lots of whooping upon discoveries and successes, lots of "That doesn't work!!!" as well), working fast and making the most of the logical, creative and practical natures of your team. The story itself unfolds beautifully, the props are clever and well made, and it was totally impossible not to enter fully into the thrill and adrenalin rush that these games are all about. It's exciting, nerve wracking, and great.
I am proud to say we managed to escape with a mere 4 minutes left to go. Natch we headed to the beautiful and friendly Cafe Brittania, also in the Guildhall, for some restorative tea and cake afterwards. There's another escape room at the Guildhall..our dream team have already made plans to escape from that one soon.
I highly recommend this new concept - it's brilliant for learning about history in a lively fashion, a great way to spend time with friends and gives you the opportunity to test those brain cells under pressure. The fact that it is set in the cells in the ancient Guildhall where this story actually took place makes it even better.
A thrilling way to spend an hour...or less. What happens in the cell stays in the cell.
Find out more details here http://www.historymysterygame.com