Are the snogging tourists on Tower Hill just innocent bystanders or are they undercover operatives working for some nefarious organisation intent on bringing down the country?
With headphones on and a mellifluous female voice whispering conspiracy theories at you, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what is part of the spy game that has just begun.
This is Nightwatchers, a new immersive experience that involves following men and women with red scarves around the Tower of London, as historical tales of espionage are interwoven with a nocturnal stroll through the battlements of the medieval castle.
Visitors are equipped with a smartphone, headphones, binoculars and secret documents, which all come into play as you slip out of your normal self and into character as a secret agent on the prowl.
This nicely-designed immersive tour is the brainchild of digital theatre company Anagram working with Historic Royal Palaces to create an experience aimed at bringing to life some of the lesser known stories of the traitors who were imprisoned in the Tower. It’s a clever and atmospheric way to learn about people such as Henry Walpole — uncovering the story of this Jesuit dissident and others like him, while making you think about modern state surveillance and torture techniques.
In the icy January night, where you can see every breath in the light of the moon, the castle is an effortlessly theatrical setting — and boy do the twinkling river and modern buildings on the Southbank add to the mood. The game itself is sedate rather than a clock-ticking, escape-the-room type experience. You remain fairly passive as different voices lead you through the rooms and explain the grisly fates of the inmates.
And it works extremely well: the tone is just the right side of sceptical and fun rather than frantic or frightening. The tech did conk out once, but the red-scarved spooks were soon on hand to reset it and get us back on track. This is a good idea done well and we would be keen to see more museums and historical buildings experimenting with such imaginative and theatrical methods to enhance a visit.
Nightwatchers runs on selected dates throughout February. Tickets £16-£20.