REVIEW: Stab in the Dark, Show Up Productions (Child version)

Here at The Family Stage, we are rather partial to an immersive problem-solving experience. Mummy and Mrs Mummy are escape room veterans with an unblemished record. (If you discount the occasion we went to an escape room without our usual teammates and were clearly hindered by amateurs. And pretend that Cluequest didn’t add on extra minutes last time because they felt sorry for the children and/or a very hungover Mummy…..) Although we have taken the munchkins along a few times, it can be quite difficult to find a room that works for young children. You either have to slow things down and let the kids help, or leave them hanging around awkwardly while the adults do the detective work. (Mrs Mummy has been known to elbow the munchkins out of the way under time pressure!) So we were thrilled to be invited to try out a specially adapted children’s version of a new immersive crime scene experience in Southend.

Stab in the Dark is the debut production of Show Up Productions, run by Benfleet based theatre maker Rachel Dingle. Part escape room, part immersive theatre performance, it’s set in 1995 and centres around a murder at a prestigious fashion store. Detectives must comb the crime scene for clues and take their findings to the police station where they can submit evidence for forensic analysis and interview witnesses. The main experience is suitable for ages 14+ and lasts two hours. The children’s version is aimed at ages 8-10(ish). It’s shorter and not quite as theatrical (e.g. there are no witnesses to interview) but there is still plenty of detective work for them to do.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Detective Inspector Watson and police forensic expert Doctor Jones, who immediately ushered us into the police station. The munchkins were kitted up with police badges and had their fingerprints taken (to eliminate themselves in case they touched any vital evidence) before being briefed on the case. After carefully putting on plastic shoe covers to avoid contaminating the crime scene, they headed into Barker’s Boutique, brandishing clipboards and a crate full of forensic investigation equipment.

For the next half hour or so, they scoured the crime scene for evidence that would enable them to eliminate suspects from their list. Much like an escape room, there’s a mixture of searching for clues and making use of what you find right in front of you. Despite their usual untidy tendencies, the munchkins needed quite a bit of encouragement to make a mess, meaning Mummy eventually had to step in and empty out a bin that they had searched several times already. (Although this is entirely consistent with their other habit of being unable to find things that are right in front of their faces.) Once they did find clues, they were very enthusiastic about bagging up the evidence and running back and forth to the police station to get it tested.

The children’s version is a well structured, linear game that allows them to tick off one suspect at a time (and pretty much guarantees that they will solve the crime). It feels quite like a cross between Guess Who and Cluedo, with the added fun of evidence bags and UV torches. Mummy and Mrs Mummy also particularly enjoyed watching the munchkins try to solve the mystery of what on earth a VHS tape was. The munchkins were thrilled to be presented with certificates confirming that they had solved the crime (even though Quaver declared that the culprit did not look like a murderer). It was also a nice touch to let them keep their fingerprints, police badges and suspect investigation sheet.

Stab in the Dark is a brilliant game which we would thoroughly recommend to families. It’s not quite an escape room, but has similar vibes, and the children’s version really plugs a gap in the market. Although they are slightly under the suggested age range, it was pitched at just the right level for our 6 and 7 year old munchkins. There is a little bit of reading involved, which was just about fine for Crotchet. And there are adults on hand to help if children do get stuck. The only thing that may put off slightly smaller people is the murder theme (which involves a body outline and some obviously fake blood) and the need to briefly turn the lights off for the UV torches (although it’s possible to do it without). With hindsight, we probably could have made it clearer that it was a game though, given the number of follow-up questions we got about how DI Watson would catch the culprit and whether the other suspects were in fact murderers at all.

Mummy and Mrs Mummy would love to go back and have a go at the adult version too, but suspect we already know whodunnit……

Stab in the Dark is on for a limited four week run from 1 October 2019. The child-friendly version runs from Monday 28 October to Friday 1 November.