On an unassuming ‘hump-day’, myself and a few of my colleagues found ourselves standing at the back of The Black Lion in The Lanes, crowding around a reasonably perplexing gentleman. He was twiddling a pipe in his left hand and peering out, scanning the pub, over a pair of green holographic sunglasses. Although not the strangest of sights in Brighton, this chap – as the guide to our very own experience of Handmade Mysteries (Brighton’s first immersive ‘escape the room’-style experience) – seemed intriguing. With crisply pronounced words and a knowing smirk, he introduces himself as Gabriel, our host for the coming hour. We were led through the staff door up to the top of the historic building until we reach a room padlocked shut awaiting our arrival.
Gabriel remained in mysterious character as he passed us torches and briefed us on our afternoon’s mission. In essence, our goal was to unshackle Lady Chastity’s Reserve wine from a sealed cabinet in the room, in the time it takes for the hourglass to empty. Having been immersed in the spirit of the game since meeting our host, we nervously shuffled into the room. The innuendo-ridden storyline kept us in pretty high spirits until we realise we’re trapped in this dark room unable to escape… The experience is a sensory one – with clues to uncover at every turn, you find yourself rooting through boxes and all sorts (I don’t want to give too much away), while being blasted by the smoke machine as Lady Chastity’s voice booms through the room, belittling the players with her sharp tongue.
Attempting to get our hands on the much-coveted bottle of Reserve ‘laced with aphrodisiac’ it’s said, we started off completely clueless and bickering as to where to even begin. Eventually we called for help (you’re allowed to ask for assistance a maximum of three times. It’s quite embarrassing that it was so soon into the game for us). Nudged vaguely in the right direction, our motivation to escape piqued. Speaking to Ben Tucker, one of the founders of Handmade Mysteries, he explains, “We prefer the term ‘escapism room’ as we immerse players in a story through sound, specially made ‘Goonie-esque’ props, authentic furniture, and chilling special effects.” Tucker and his business partner, James Addy, have done exactly this – the interior of the room is punctuated with cobwebs, antiques, gory skulls and much more – if you’re squeamish, there’s your warning.
Starting in London and being a roaring (or perhaps screaming?) success, the founders figured that “Brighton’s thriving creative community is yet to be treated to ‘Escape Games’.” With a penchant for adventure, the city is definitely a great test market for their post-capital success. Tucker continues, “it felt like a responsibility to treat them [Brightonians] to some new immersive play”. As a venue, The Black Lion is perfect as the creaky floors and high ceilings transport players into a completely different world.
Unfortunately, as we bickered and trusted the red herrings, the BN1 team didn’t fair too well against Lady Chastity’s ‘Crystal Maze on Crystal Meth’ as we all sat on the floor, desperately attempting to solve our last clue in the final seconds of our hour timeframe. Gabriel came in with a solemn face and led us out of the room with no prize in hand. A great experience for friends or workmates, our Handmade Mysteries experience certainly highlighted teamwork and bravery, as you get to identify those of you who are just that bit too afraid to dive into the unknown.