In Lamplighters, a one-man interactive spy story, that’s part game, part interactive theatre, part improv comedy, Neil Connolly plays a Spymaster and the audience his spy network. From creatives behind hit immersive experiences such as HEIST and The Crystal Maze Experience, Rogue Productions’ latest creation takes immersive theatre onto the stage at the Old Red Lion following a sell out run at London’s VAULT Festival 2018, where it ran for a week and won the festival’s People’s Choice Award.
We caught up with Neil Connolly to find out more.
Lamplighters is coming to the Old Red Lion this summer, tell us a little about the show?
Lamplighters brings together all of my favourite things: Le Carré spies, interactive theatre, gameplay, and improvisation.
Having spent over a decade working at the top of immersive theatre and being an improv comedy performer I’ve combined all of my favourite things to make a one man interactive comedy experience, in the perfect location – above a pub!
My hour (ish) long show allows the audience to neck a pint whilst laughing both at (I hope) and with (most definitely) me and their fellow comrades, whilst peering into the life of MI6 agent come circus bureaucrat, James Sneezy.
You don’t have to volunteer to join in, but it’s definitely more fun if you do!
What made you want to bring an immersive show into a conventional theatre setting?
I have friends, and people I meet through work or play, who I invite to various immersive or interactive shows. Most chomp at the bit to experience something new and exciting, to dive down that rabbit hole. However, some say they don’t like participating or interacting and prefer to voyeur. With this in mind we created Lamplighters, where both options are readily available.
I teach interactive theatre to young theatre makers and university students, so I understand people’s reservations with regards to participation, particularly as I’ve seen it done badly before.
When handled correctly, and when the audience is engaged in the right manner, interactive and immersive theatre has the power to transport us to other worlds that previously we only dreamed of. This show is a love-letter to my favourite things. It’s also a statement about how interactive can be done.
Essentially, it’s a bit of craic!
How did you get into being an immersive and interactive theatre maker – was it intentional or accidental?
It was 100% intentional. I was inspired to move in this direction having seen Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death at BAC, Shunt’s early work under London Bridge train station (who else remembers that magical little steel door?), and the very early Secret Cinema shows (back when it was fully secret).
Around the time of seeing these shows, I had the choice of either becoming a ‘traditional’ theatre performer or to carve my own path. I’d already started making interactive theatre but this all honed my path. Given the very limited options across theatre and film for a stocky brash Dubliner lacking a penchant for accents, I began devising my own shows or creating my own parts in other people’s shows.
This form of theatre and performance art, rather than scripted film and TV projects, allowed me to explore and create my own niche within the interactive and immersive industry.
You and your co-creator Dean have worked together several times; what drew you to working together initially, and what keeps you working together now?
Dean and I met in 2012 at a party, an immersive BBC themed party in the basement of the old BBC London HQ on Marylebone High Street run by Theatre Delicatessen, who I was working with and for at the time.
Dean had met my friends at this party and they seemed to think that every Irish person actually knows, or should know, each other. He approached me and said “I’m Dean, I hear you’re another Irish man and a fellow theatre maker?”.
Rather than queue at the bar, we headed to grab hold of the stash of Gin in my office and for the next few hours we worked our way through the bottle and talked shite about all sorts. Needless to say, a friendship was born and a partnership burgeoned – the party was pretty good too.
Six years later, I am chuffed to bits to be working with someone who for so much of our creative process I get to share these conversations:
“Yeah but mate, how are we actually going TO DO THAT?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure it’ll be grand.”
What would be your dream show or project to work on?
To sound completely like a spy: I have, in the past, made privately commissioned interactive and immersive shows on a HUGE scale that the world or public will NEVER see. They actually happened, they were one-time deals, and they were nuts. I cannot confirm or deny the existence of said ‘dream show/s’, but I can tell you that they were amazing to be part of.
Every theatre maker or writer has a box with scraps of paper and huge ideas in. I’ve started work on some projects in the past that had to be shelved and never came to fruition – maybe I’ll dust them off and see how they work out, or inspiration will hit me and I’ll make something totally new.
I don’t limit myself in any way whatsoever, there’s no fun in that – plus I can’t give away all my secrets, can I?
And what is coming next for you?
Lamplighters is at the Old Red Lion Theatre 24th July – 18th August 2018.