We went down the rabbit hole into a whimsical, immersive theatre experience with escape room-like challenges at Holloway Road’s Owl and Hitchhiker pub. Did it satisfy our urge for escapery?
Plenty of the escape rooms we’ve played recently have been set up to take advantage of hitherto unused spaces in, under and behind pubs and coffee shops. Other pubs and cafés have long been teaming up with theatre companies to provide a venue for all kinds of events and performances. When we heard about The Hunt for the Smoking Caterpillar, an event in a North London pub promising a combination of immersive theatre and escape room elements, we thought we’d get involved and see for ourselves what kind of world Buckbuck Games had created.
The Hunt for the Smoking Caterpillar invites you to follow the white rabbit into a twisted Wonderland, where an eccentric baron welcomes you with a drink before sending you forth to find his missing caterpillar, as well as to make your fortune by gathering “golds”. Participants set out in teams of two or three to explore the surreal environment created in the Owl and Hitchhiker’s upper room, interact with a small cast of larger-than-life characters and take on the challenges they set. The whole experience lasts approximately an hour, and is punctuated with riotous theatrical episodes where the cast gets every audience member involved.
What does The Hunt for the Smoking Caterpillar offer escape room fans?
As soon as we were let off the leash to begin our hunt for golds and a caterpillar, our escape-hungry eyes picked up the presence of more than a few boxes, padlocks and other classic escape room staples. There were plenty of puzzles to solve and tasks to complete in this Wonderland, sometimes by interacting with a character to obtain an item or a secret, and sometimes simply by interacting with the objects at hand.
Interacting with characters and interacting with objects sum up the two approaches that participants can take to The Hunt for the Smoking Caterpillar: it can be immersive entertainment, or it can be a challenge to solve. At its best, it’s both of these experiences at once, but the two aspects can occasionally conflict with each other, for example, when all participants are encouraged to stop what they’re doing and watch the actors performing, but you just happen to be on the cusp of solving a puzzle and can’t tear yourself away!
Like almost all theatre performances, this is an event with public booking, and unless you hire the whole game for your private event (also offered by Buckbuck Games!) your team will be sharing the experience with up to 24 other participants. Choosing to compete or cooperate with other teams is all part of the fun, but at times the space felt a little crowded, and we often had to hover and wait to interact with the actor or object we needed. We also felt like we were in other teams’ way at times while they waited for us to finish something. Puzzles are reset after being solved, however, so that more teams have a chance to attempt them.
The Hunt for the Smoking Caterpillar is running at the Owl and Hitchhiker on dates throughout June and July 2019, and we’d encourage you to give it a go if you enjoy playful, irreverent theatre with plenty of light-hearted interaction with actors, as well as solving puzzles and challenges. It’s an evening out with a difference, with a side that will certainly appeal to escape room fans. While we attended as a pair, we think it would be even more fun to go as a bigger group and play with – or against – your friends.