The Mermaid’s Tongue is Swamp Motel’s second immersive, online piece. Their creatives rose to the challenge of COVID-19 lockdown by moving their theatrical experiences online. Previously this year, they’ve successfully won over audiences with Plymouth Point. The company proudly describes their theatrical experiences as a combination of “the artistry of immersive theatre with the thrill of an escape room, made for the internet.” The Mermaid’s Tongue delivered on this promise and turned out to be a fun, intriguing and intellectually stimulating online quest, which blurs the line between fiction and reality.
Going into this immersive theatrical performance, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I must say that was pleasantly surprised. The Mermaid’s Tongue is set in an art class and when you arrive on the call there is also someone else there, Daisy, whose camera is turned off.
After the instructor has left, Daisy begins to send messages in the chat asking for your help. Her friend Katherine Stewart died in suspicious circumstances, and now you need to uncover what happened to Katherine. For the rest of the show, Daisy sends clues and hints in the chat until her identity is revealed (but I won’t spoil that).
The main character of the show is Katherine Stewart. It is uncovered very quickly (through hacking some files) that she was working with a group of people to fight against The London Stone Consortium. You get to know Katherine through a series of video clips left behind and reading her journals. I was surprised by how invested I got in her life and death.
Through some investigative work, the audience is also introduced to Jocelyn Mattison, an associate of Katherine. She joins the art class call and also offers you some help. Jocelyn is a great character, who is also fighting against the London Stone Consortium. She is a university professor who has written about the mysterious weapon, The Mermaids Tongue (you can actually read an article that she has written). The piece really doesn’t feel like theatre, which is helped massively by the characterisation.
My favourite character(s) is The London Stone Consortium, although not a lot is known about them. All that is revealed is that they are a large group of high-up corrupt officials. At the start of the event you submit your phone number and throughout the show you receive ominous texts from the London Stone Consortium – this really makes you feel like you are being watched, which completely enhances the immersive aspect of the show.
One of The Mermaid’s Tongue’s strongest features is its narrative. The production tells a story that brings you challenges and obstacles, so that you never have to solve two problems the same way. Taking part in a live drawing class, Lydia, a class member, invites you to help her fulfil the last wish of a member of the class who recently died. From here, the story takes you to an auction house, an art shop in Soho, a university department, and even to the middle of mainland Europe, in a quest to help defeat a shadowy evil organisation which is hell-bent on bringing down society in order to advance its own agenda.
Filled with cliches and conventional tropes, I’m not sure that it would work, or be of interest, to watch as a non-participant. However, as you’re taking part, you can’t help but give in to the story. Unlocking more parts of the narrative through your own inductive skills makes you more engrossed with the story, as you work to reach ending to find out what you’ve accomplished. And that ending… It left every member of our party with hands over our mouths.
I was absolutely gobsmacked at how incredibly effective this performance was. The experience was completely immersive, and Swamp Motel has used every feature of our digital world perfectly to build the make-belieVe world of The Mermaid’s Tongue. The performance had layers upon layers of pre-prepared materials bursting with details – all of which felt and proved to be important to the solving of the mystery. They didn’t stop at building a website and working through that one platform, the performance created various online locations in which we searched for clues. From figuring out a password using someone eulogy to access a ‘members’ area’ they built, to raking through publicly available websites (expertly designed to look eerily realistic), attending the performance felt like playing an exciting game of puzzle, where I forgot about the time or where I was.
Working with a group of complete strangers was both freeing and fascinating. The fact that we didn’t know each other seemed to dissipate in the heat of the mystery and as we worked together towards the goal we bonded over our shared worries of failure or small successes of figuring out a particularly tough piece of the puzzle.
Personally, I have a new-found love for immersive theatre, and I am looking forward to their next show to see what else they come up with. I would recommend this experience to everyone who enjoys participatory theatre, escape rooms and who’d like a taste of crime and adventure in their lives. While searching for The Mermaid’s Tongue, an hour and a half’s thrilling entertainment is guaranteed.
Words by Mischa Alexander, Orla McAndrew & Regina Toth.
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