The Vaults have long been one of the most intriguing venues in London, with its penchant for mounting some of the most innovative and interactive productions that really push the boundaries of what theatre is and can be.
One such production is the delightful Bring Them Home by Treehouse. Described as a mega-game, this experience is equal parts board game, interactive theatre and treat for one’s inner child. Upon arrival to Unit 9, we were greeted by the fantastically enthusiastic Jon Gracey – the games designer and our host for the afternoon – who briefed us on the ‘need-to-know’, both narratively and in terms of game mechanics before being led into the launch station.
The basics of the story are that, after a united launch by the USA’s NASA, Russia’s CCCP and the EU’s EUSA, the shuttle exploring space undergoes damage and needs to return to Earth. It is up to the members of the three agencies and the head astronaut of the craft to work together to ‘bring them home’.
The set design is enjoyably straight forward; three tables, one for each nation, a press office and a large shuttle in which the astronaut will reside. The audience is split into three groups, one to represent each nation. Two members form the international press, a team that exists to award prestige points based on the ‘public perception’ of each of the space agencies and, finally, one person becomes the astronaut.
I had the great privilege of being selected to be the astronaut for this game. Initially, this may sound a slightly daunting prospect, being as you’re stuck in a pod with little contact with the rest of the players for the majority of the game. However, it has been a long, long time since I’ve had so much fun in either a performance or gaming environment.
What starts out as a mission to return home safely soon becomes a game of international espionage and he-said she-said as the three agencies all evolved into the cold war tactics of backstabbing, communication blocking and sabotage. Naturally, due to my role in the game, I am limited in how much I can say about the game as it is played outside of the pod. The brilliance of this production is in how quickly and effectively it establishes the relationship between space agencies and the astronaut. As the sole inhabitant of the ship, you are reliant on the messages sent to you from Earth for advice, company and your sanity. The agencies are all vying for your favour in order to gain boons and points from the press, leading their charge towards overall game victory!
The game plays smoothly, with clear instruction and little imposition from the game’s host and other facilitators and we eventually reached end-game, after a few perilous rounds. As I stepped out of the ship, with my flag of choice, the players leapt from their tables and ran over to embrace me and it was a sincerely joyful moment! Knowing, as the game had progressed, the real risks of less positive outcomes really worked towards building tension and lent itself to such a feeling of triumph at the game’s conclusion. We had been transported from Waterloo’s Vaults to the HQ of some of the biggest space agencies in the world and the elation as we, as a collective, managed a safe journey home was evident in the faces and the excited nattering across the room.
It is so rare today that we get the chance to play, especially as adults, and Treehouse, in this installation, full encapsulates the joy of imagination and the frivolous, mischievous freedom that comes with playing make-believe. I’m delighted to have found them and cannot wait to see what they do next. Don’t hesitate, space-race to get a ticket or miss out on a truly epic journey.
Review by Ben Powell
An astronaut floats through space in a broken ship. In an alternate 1970s, the world’s space agencies must co-operate to navigate them safely to back to earth, but each agency has its own agenda.
In this frenetic immersive game, players take the roles of astronaut and the space agency members who vie for prestige with the press (also played by audience members) and each other.
Each audience member will receive an email with their role and the rules, and you’re encouraged to dress the part of 70s space agency science whiz. No prior knowledge or gaming experience needed.
The future of the world hangs in the balance. Get ready to bring them home.
20th February to 3rd March 2019