'The Grift' review or 'Does this door lock automatically?'

'The Grift', Tom Salamon
Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel, 26 January 2018
Written for Time Out 

Ever wanted to try your hand as a con artist? How’s about taking a tour of the five-star Town Hall Hotel, with a few escape room challenges thrown into the mix? ‘The Grift’ is the latest in a long line of ever-expanding theatrical hybrids: part immersive theatre, part ‘Crystal Maze’, and part dodgy work experience. It’ll test your nerve, your intelligence and – occasionally – your patience.
As is so often the case with this sort of work, the story is largely irrelevant. Having said that, Tom Salamon – who also penned PG promenade show Goosebumps Alive – fills in the gaps with gusto. A quirky chap named Ben lived and died in this very hotel. Ben was a master conman, and now his pals have gathered to teach us the tricks of the trade and pull off one last scam in his memory.
What follows is a series of mini ‘conman’ tutorials, under timed conditions. We’re taught how to switch briefcases, dupe a deliveryman and engineer a financial scam. Our wits are also tested with a series of (semi) crafty conundrums. It’s initially a bit mad and fun but the tension quickly evaporates. The structure of the show – and the fact we know the scenes must keep motoring forward – means there’s little at stake, no real repercussions if things go pear-shaped.
As a piece of theatre ‘The Grift’ asks too much of its audience and, as an adventure, it demands too little. Coney’s ‘Adventure’ used a similar formula to pose difficult moral questions and the Corinthian Hotel artist-in-residence productions feel wedded to the building in more interesting ways. A fun quick scam but not a brilliant long-term investment.


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