Darlington Hippodrome theatre and Tall Tales Mysteries teamed up to present a special performance after representatives from the two organisations met at a Chamber event. Mark Lane hears how the relationship developed
A confession first of all: I’m not really a fan of murder mystery events, with the idea of being involved in interactive shows of any kind not really being something I would take part in with any great relish.
However, the thought of a murder mystery event taking place inside a theatre, with the action happening in all parts of the building, including the various galleries, in the wings and the wardrobe, in parts of the building usually out of bounds to the public – now that’s something I can buy into.
In fact, attending a murder mystery event taking place at Darlington’s wonderful Hippodrome building is a no-brainer really. The idea for the event came about thanks to a meeting of minds between Lynda Winstanley, Darlington Hippodrome theatre director, and Sara West, who runs Tall Tales Mysteries. We caught up with both to find out what, precisely, the event will entail and how such events are growing in popularity generally – even managing to win over doubters such as myself.
For the uninitiated, Darlington Hippodrome re-opened at the end of 2017 following a £13.7m restoration which not only reinstated much of its Edwardian splendour, but also totally reimagined the space for a new generation of theatre-goers.
Lynda told Contact how the Hippodrome, “plays a key role in the cultural life of the region and has been a source of entertainment since Edwardian times, enjoying a very loyal following and hosting performances by great names and of enormous variety”. The building itself is Grade II listed, an iconic structure and the source of immense civic pride.
The idea for a murder mystery event came about when Lynda met Sara at a networking event held by North East England Chamber of Commerce at the Hippodrome itself.
“I felt there was potentially a crossover between our aspiration to find new ways to engage people with our heritage and the events which Tall Tales were organising around the region,” Lynda says.
Accordingly, the show, which takes place in May, is called Murder in the Wings and invites people to step into a murder mystery and immerse themselves in a story that takes them behind the scenes in the Edwardian theatre. Tall Tales Mysteries’ cast of actors will invite them to turn detective and solve the crime.
The idea is that people have a fun evening of entertainment but, equally importantly, learn more about the theatre, its history and how it operates today.
“All members of our team are involved,” Lynda says. “It’s something a bit different so we are all looking forward to it.”
Sara and her team are also relishing the opportunity to put on a performance at the theatre. She reveals herself as a big fan of the theatre in any case, and the chance to work with the venue was one not to be missed.
Sara says: “Why would I not want to work with the Darlington Hippodrome? “It’s a beautiful place and the recent refurbishment has made it even more stunning. We’re going to be taking our audience back stage, into all sorts of spaces they might not have lingered in before, and our plot just fits perfectly there.
“It’s also a great chance for us to reach a theatre-going audience who might not have been to one of our murder mystery nights before. We think they’ll love what we have planned.”
Sara and her actors actually work right across the region, creating interactive theatre for all manner of venues and events.
She says: “I write all our scripts and we have teams of actors around the North East who go out and perform wherever they are wanted.
“Each of our scripts has elements of theatre, performed around our guests and then improvised elements when our actors (or suspects) go to the tables to talk to guests and answer any questions they have about what they’ve seen.
“Our suspects stay in character all evening and they are brilliant at one- liners and ad libs. We have scripts for three actors right up to six actors and a plot for every occasion.”
What about audience participation? As indicated earlier, this might not be to the tastes of everybody but, as Sara suggests, the shows as much as anything are about getting the audience talking among themselves. Sara adds: “My favourite piece of feedback was from one guest who told us coming along to one of our murder mysteries was like ‘being part of the show but not having to learn any lines’.
“They are a great way of spending an evening with friends or even getting to know complete strangers on your table! They certainly get you talking and thinking.
“I think everyone loves the thought of turning detective and solving a mystery and once people have been to one of our mysteries they tend to want to come back again.
“It can be tricky to convince clients to try us if they’ve not had a murder
mystery night before but I have drawers full of feedback from happy guests and we love it when venues book us again and again.”
In terms of the event at Darlington Hippodrome, Sara and her network of actors cannot wait to get started. She enthuses: “We’re all really excited about bringing a murder mystery to the Hippodrome. We’ve got a great plot and our cast are just so funny, but even better, we’re not just performing in one room or space, we’re taking the audience on a tour around the theatre.
“This is going to be something completely different for us and for our audience too, I hope.”