I regret to inform you that I am writing this review from beyond the grave. My lifeless yet fabulous corpse is currently adrift in an airless spaceship many miles from Earth and somewhere in the 1970s. Those looking to avenge my death should start with my mate Miranda, who claimed to have done many escape room experiences before but turned out to be as much use as a yoyo in zero gravity during VAULT Festival’s interactive experience The Lifeboat.
Guilt must also be placed at the feet of my GCSE Maths teacher, who failed to ever properly stress the importance of knowing your prime numbers in a perilous space-based situation. The Lifeboat’s puzzles (that must be solved to escape said room) are designed by Tom Hall and utilise a wide range of skills and lateral thinking. He’s managed to cram a lot of reveals and tricks into the relatively small cage space you are locked in. Without giving you any hints, the reveal of the ship’s hologram information system is a highlight of ingenious technical wizardry.
Although you are battling in two teams of four to secure one lifeboat off a doomed rocket, you need to collaborate to unlock vital clues. This is an excellent way of finding out folks’ true nature. As Miranda swapped code-papers, I debated whether we could steal theirs using a sting of kirby grips poked through the grid fencing. Every astronaut for themselves, I say.
Hall has an extensive background in interactive games, including co-directing the Crystal Maze experience in Manchester. There’s a solid narrative built into the challenges you must complete to unlock each piece of information, but its frequently overwritten without much relevance to the task in hand. There is a distinct lack of urgency underscoring our impending demise. Of course, we know that the oxygen isn’t really running out (that certainly would be a twist) but the fact that our host clearly is unconcerned with our imminent asphyxiation does rather take the pressure off the problem-solving.
In our host’s defence, we were unprecedentedly useless. From an already pretty apathetic start, his cheerleading of our escape attempts quickly ran out of steam. It was like we were toddlers pestering our babysitter for one more game of Guess Who? when the poor bastard clearly just wants us to fuck off to bed so they can raid the fridge and watch our parent’s Sky. The final countdown to our untimely demise was an anti-climax, though by then (and us having screwed up so much our poor host had to unlock the cage to help) our sitter was probably about ready to put Nytol in our Ribena.
The Lifeboat is a fun brain-teaser of a show, difficult but without depth. I’m sure that watching idiots like myself try to do primary school maths must be exasperating, but a good old-fashioned bit of galactic peril would have elevated this half hour at the Vaults from an entertaining diversion to a destination show.
The Lifeboat is at VAULT Festival until March 18th. For more details, click here.