Elisha Fey survives the nuclear apocalypse only to get menaced by raiders, in Zed Events’ thrillingly immersive ‘Wasteland Experience’.
Fancy a trip past the end of the world? Zed Events has you covered. Turn up on the day in clothes you can get dirty and shoes you can run in – there’s going to be a lot of running. They’ll give you a gun, a torch and some basic instructions… then you’re left to the dark expanse of derelict mall, relying only on whoever comes to guide you. Whether they’ll be trustworthy is a different story.
This is an immersive theatre experience: more interactive than a movie, more real than a video game. There’s nothing quite like this medium. Conventional theatre doesn’t quite compare – that still keeps the audience in a separate bubble, whereas there’s little to no separation here. And the programmed responses in a virtual reality game can come nowhere near matching the live responses of the actors here.
Speaking of which, there’s no doubt that the acting is the strongest aspect of this event. The character Holly accompanied us through much of the story, and played a major role in making it as real as it was. Constantly engaged and on the ball, she kept our attention, carried us through the story and improvised around our interactions. One moment struck me early on, when it turned out my gun wasn’t working at a critical moment and needed a quick fix. I expected her to slip into out-of-character instructor mode, like the staff who delivered our weapons briefing, but no: once the story had started, nothing would break her character. She performed “real world” troubleshooting quickly and efficiently, all the while writhing in the agony of her fictional wounds. A seamless blend of keeping the game running smoothly and keeping the story consistent and real.
Zed Events have previously plunged people into the zombie apocalypse, but there’s no zombies this time; your opponents here are fully fleshed, but no less creepy for it. All the more so, I’d say: brainless zombies don’t have a clue what they’re doing, but there’s a clear organised intelligence here. It makes the deliberate evil all the more sinister.
There’s some fantastic outfit design displayed on the characters. Some essentially consists of modern clothing, taken many years and many scuffles past its prime and juxtaposed with grimly functional armour and weaponry. Others feel far more like deliberate costumes than clothes, displaying grisly details based around a certain theme (which I won’t spoil, to preserve the surprise and shock). Set design, by comparison, is sparse and near-barren excepting a few major locations, but the bare walls and purposefully strewn litter add to the stark, hopeless atmosphere. And, of course, the 250,000 sq ft building supplies more than the requisite desperation. You could run lost around this place for hours – and you will.
The immersive nature of this experience is absolutely key. I’d argue that, if this story existed in a conventional medium like film or video game, this wouldn’t be anywhere near as compelling as it is. I personally found the story a little lacking, but that’s only something that came to me once I was out of the building and back in the safety of fresh air. In the midst of it, not a thought could cross my mind – nothing but sheer survival instinct, kicked into overdrive. The very fact of being there is what makes it real as it is.
This is something that requires commitment to get the best experience. Taking part in this means you’re a member of the cast, and while it’s relatively okay to giggle at a horror movie when there’s no one to hear but yourself, it does everyone a disservice to do so when you’re in it. From the moment it begins, you’re intrinsically involved. The more you engage with it, the more rewarding it will be.