The Inquest review – tangled cold case enthrals amateur sleuths

Catherine Love
·2 min read

Online adventure and puzzle games – the socially distanced cousin of both the escape room and the interactive performance – have emerged as one of the successes of Zoom theatre. They have surprise and engagement on their side, creating genuinely unpredictable, shared live experiences at a time when such experiences are in short supply. The Inquest, a follow-up to last year’s Jury Duty, created by Jury Games, delivers on all these fronts.

The show’s premise is knowingly responsive to current circumstances. All of us on the video call have been invited to participate as jurors in a remote inquest – a new, Covid-safe initiative to help clear the backlog of unsolved cases. Our mystery involves the drowning of a student in Cambridge 10 years ago. Was it suicide? An accident? Or something more sinister?

Like Swamp Motel’s absorbing, pulse-raising Plymouth Point, The Inquest is a delicately configured blend of storytelling, clue-cracking and collective exploration. The exhibits presented to us at the start of the performance by the coroner soon expand outwards into a tangled web of evidence, from encrypted text messages to old Facebook photos. The quantity of information to sift through is almost overwhelming – “almost” being the crucial word there.

As with all these games, so much depends on your fellow jurors. I join a group of strangers in one of the public performances, which at times feels a little large and unwieldy – though we do benefit from some cunning amateur sleuths on our team. For a more predictable group dynamic, it’s also possible to book a private show and recruit your own lineup of detectives.

Though a certain amount comes down to the interactions between jurors, that’s not to underestimate the craft behind this experience. Two brilliantly responsive performers – the coroner (Joe Ball) and a police archivist (Tom Black) – nudge us along in our deliberations and keep the stakes high, providing some necessary structure for our sprawling investigation. Shock revelations send us off balance and our sympathies are tugged one way and then the other.

It’s a little silly at times, but enthralling nonetheless. And come to think of it, silliness might be just what’s needed right now.