A new escape room set up in Melbourne’s historic Nicholas Building falls victim to a dysfunctional group of officemates who might just smash the crap out of it if they can’t crack its code.
From the people behind the award-winning short film, Wibble Wobble, The Escape Room is a dark comedy about team-building, breaking points and puzzles. We spoke to one third of the Wibble Wobble team, Daphne Do.
How did your group come together?
Alex and I met in London 8 years ago, we’re partners. We’re co-writing, co-directing, co-producing, the whole shebang. We met studying engineering. When we were working in engineering, living a fly-in fly-out lifestyle, we realised that we had no life. We decided to take a year out and try something different. He had always been really into comedy and I didn’t know what I would do with my year out. I ended up doing a filmmaking course, and he ended up doing heaps of improv and stand-up and we’ve just never gone back to work. Our cast has come through Alex and the improv that he’s done.
How are you finding working as a creative compared to working as an engineer?
It’s way more stressful. Seriously, with a week to go before the show I would be seriously considering going back to engineering. It’s a different kind of difficult, the best thing about engineering is you have your 9-5, and you get to go home and you get to clock off. It’s made a bit more difficult working with and being in a relationship with Alex, our minds are constantly working 24/7. There’s no break. The stakes are higher as well, because you’re doing something that you care about, that’s rather personal and quite public.
How did you go about finding the space for the room?
The space is in the Nicholas building? We were very, very lucky. Alex and I are planning on moving to London for a bit and I was worried I wasn’t going to get my visa in time and we would be here for Comedy Festival without anything – and we wanted to get involved. We had this idea brewing for a while in its early phases. We decided that if we can find a room, then let’s do it. And we found this amazing space, it’s like a life-drawing class in the Nicholas building. We have it exclusively for our run, which means we can set up a set without having to bump out, which has been great. It’s such a special building anyway It’s nice to be doing something there.
What drew you to escape rooms as something that’s funny?
Alex and I come from science backgrounds, and my brother is a Maths lecturer. I think he took us to our first ever escape room. He’s way nerdier than I am. We had just done a few and there was just something – I was very conscious that it was bringing out the worst in me. Competitiveness, frustrations and impatience with other people and all that kind of stuff. I thought this kind of thing was quite right for comedy. I think they’re quite zeitgeist-y. Improv is not that marketable, and we wanted something punchy that we can sell, and I think The Escape Room is perfect for that, it hits all of those elements.
Are there any particular escape rooms that influenced this one – do you have a favourite?
Not really. The tough thing is doing this with limited time and limited budget, how do you really give the audience that kind of immersive escape room experience? And those things cost a lot of money. I don’t really have a favourite escape room, but my brother raves about these really, really immersive ones in France. There’s one that’s built into a plane, you’ve gotta get out of the cockpit. We would have loved to do something that stunt-y, but this is a love project and we don’t have the money. It’s more about the people, I think.
Your film came third in Tropfest, how do you find writing for comedy different than writing for film?
The film and the show, the beginning process was quite similar. The film was semi-improvised and I guess the reason we like working with improv is because we have such a great improv network. My personal taste lies in naturalism. The interesting thing about moving naturalism from film to a stage is in directing the audience’s attention. In film, you can point the camera at the nuance you know, the look, the smile, the hand movement. On stage, it’s hard to choreograph, especially with improv. That’s been quite a struggle and I guess we’ll see if we nail it when it comes down to it.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to break out of the corporate sphere and just do something creative?
You just have to go for it. It’s really important to surround yourself with the right people when you’re doing that because it’s hard work. To be honest, I’ve moved into getting paid work doing production design and set design, taking the time to do this show – we’ve got too much time. It means that ideas can be over-chewed and there’s so much pressure because it’s the only thing that’s going on. So making sure you have something that can remove your mind from the process.
Are there any shows you’re excited to see in the festival, when you have time to go see some?
To be honest, I actually haven’t looked, we haven’t picked up a copy of the guide! I have a friend Elizabeth Davie, who won best comedy at Perth Fringe World, but I’ve not yet seen her show. Her run starts after ours so I’d be keen to see that. There’s a couple of international acts, like Tim Key. I saw 50 shows last year because I had a pass. The idea is to do our run and then just go see everything, as much as we can.
The Escape Room is at Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 29 March–2 April and 5 April–8 April, 7pm. Tickets are $20–25 – to buy tickets and for more information about the show, see the MICF website.