So John Lewis isn’t the first place that you’d expect to host a dark dining experience but they did so here we are!
The Poisoned Garden was an immersive dining experience that was somewhat in the same vein as Hide and Shriek’s Delectably Dead. The major difference between these two events was that The Poisoned Garden was front-loaded with the theatrical elements and that the story had concluded by the time that we were ready for the main course.
The concept was that we were on a premises that was due to be demolished occupied by spirits that were at unrest due to a tragedy catalysed by a gypsy curse. Our job was simple; identify the curse that kept these souls in limbo and lift it so that they could be freed before the building was torn down.
What ensued was an immersive experience where we had to engage with all the troubled ghosts and get to the bottom of this mystery. The show was very similar to Whitechapel in that once it started, it started. You couldn’t possibly be present for all the twists and turns but we found the narrative to be a lot more compact meaning that, even if you didn’t witness everything yourself, you were filled in by the characters referencing previous events. This wasn’t an open-ended story but one that had a linear script (even though it certainly didn’t feel like it was) and a very definitive ending.
What did we think? We really enjoyed this one – the relatively small footprint of the event (a rooftop bar) meant that you didn’t feel too far away from ‘spontaneous’ events and the fact that the characters implored you to assist them kept you involved. Indeed, we may have shifted into ‘escape room mode’ at one point, taking a clue a bit deeper than it actually was! And even though we were ultimately way off the scent, we felt invested enough that we didn’t feel as though we’d wasted our time.
The way that they managed the thirty strong group of people was pretty clever; almost as soon as the show began, two girls came up to us asking if we wanted to meet someone. We obliged and walked into a scene that just us were in – we assume the production divided the rest of the group up in such a manner. And having a personal scene delivered to just us two made us feel that more special!
As far as the acting went – it was refreshing to see that cast was wholly populated by older actors. There wasn’t a fresh-faced teen to be spotted anywhere here. It’s maybe an odd thing to point out but we are so used to (and fatigued by) dealing with very young actors that it was a breath of fresh air to be engaging with an older cast. It lent a certain levity to proceedings, rather than chucking a grey wig on a nineteen-year-old and calling it a day. The guys behind this show cast it appropriately and it absolutely paid off. The cast were all fantastic with our favourite being Iris; she displayed a range of emotions whilst managing to stay the right side of genuine and it was great to see, especially when she had no-one to bounce off but us two.
Obviously, the other half of this show was the dining experience. The food and drink were great, prepared by the restaurant in situ. We’re not food reviewers though so we won’t botch descriptions of what we ate – our pictures will do a way better job!
As far as the food went though, there is one thing that we thought was cool. At every course, we were offered a choice of garnish with the servers warning us that one was poisonous. Now, we didn’t think much of this at the time, assuming that the staff were getting into the spirit of the event and hamming it up. We went along with it but didn’t give it a second thought. That was until we’d finished eating and were given a card running through all the options of the evening and what decisions would’ve lead to our deaths. This was a neat inclusion – those choices had consequences and we’re sad to report that we both died although at different points of the evening!
The Poisoned Garden - John Lewis
+ Freedom to explore
+ Food wasn't an afterthought
- The ending was slightly confusing
This was great fun, a nice little slice of immersive theatre topped off with a decent meal!
Address: 300 Oxford St, Marylebone, London W1C 1DX