ith theatrical output moving online during lockdown, the distinction between theatre and interactive gaming is becoming increasingly blurred. Smoking Gun – created by Dan Barnard, Rachel Briscoe and Joe McAlister for the company Fast Familiar – is a clever combination of the two. The show plays out on an online chat app and runs in 30-minute instalments over five consecutive nights. As time ticks on, the participants must examine the evidence (provided by one seriously suspicious whistleblower), and decide whether or not to go public – and exactly who or what to trust along the way.
Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the story involves a potentially dodgy Tory MP and a definitely dodgy big pharma company. The research poured into it is impressive and, at times, overwhelming. We’re sent immaculate graphs, articles, video clips and stats, all of which demand careful attention. Much of it comes laden with sneakier evidence hidden underneath, if you’re willing to put in the hours to dig it out.
Certainly, this is a show for the tech-savvy and time-rich. During a post-show debrief, I discover that some participants spent two hours researching before each nightly chat. That’s an awful lot to ask of an audience. For someone accustomed to being a little more led, and perhaps a little more explicitly entertained (there are only so many spreadsheets I can absorb), my energy and enthusiasm levels began to drop.
The webchat app is persuasively self-contained but participants are required to carry out research online, too, and, after countless dead-end Google searches, it gets increasingly difficult to suspend disbelief. The lag time between the shows, and all the real life that flows in between, dilutes the experience. Yet there are moments when the real world and game world intersect to thrilling effect. At one point, I stumble across a phone number and begin to dial. My heart is racing and, for just a moment, I’ve fallen completely for the fantasy.