It’s not everyday that you get to join a group of post-apocalyptic rebels escaping an old abandoned 1700’s courthouse just down the road from Birmingham City centre; being a fan of horror films, action games and problem solving it was an immensely exhilarating experience that my boyfriend and I absolutely loved and suggest everybody should try at least once!
This was our first ever zombie experience as we usually stick to the cinema or bowling for date night but fancied something a little more adrenaline fuelled and out of the ordinary. My boyfriend loves playing Call Of Duty as a first person shooter game and I’m pretty partial to a game or two of Plants Vs Zombies whilst waiting for the train so when we were looking for days out this really ticked all of our boxes. Reading reviews online we came across cases of zombie days that injure people, tear your clothing and have the zombies actually wrestle you to the floor which we weren’t too keen on; therefore we settled on this particular experience based on the non-contact rule between the zombies and escapees, the professional reputation of the brand and positive reviews from previous customers safe in the knowledge that nobody can touch or eat you and you can’t touch them!
We used the pay-and-display carpark next to the courthouse which was conveniently free after 6pm and arrived 20 minutes early as advised on the booking form for our over 18’s early evening slot (an age 12+ option is also available). We were delighted to see a mix of couples and a stag party filled with enthusiasm to fight alongside us and had a short introduction whilst everyone checked-in before we were led indoors for the experience to begin. There were around 16 of us in total and we were able to work together as a group and in smaller teams to problem solve, search for items, run from and fight the zombies within a very well thought out and executed storyline led by multiple actors who remained in character throughout – just like playing a computer game!
We had a several minute safety briefing in the foyer before removing any loose items, stowing electrical’s and taking off warm clothing as the experience involves two hours of constant activity – mostly running for your life and travelling around the courthouse to find clues. It’s surprising how out of breath and sweaty you get and I particularly enjoyed watching grown men scream thanks to the beauty of immersive theatre! It’s also very rare these days to attend any event where no mobile phones or cameras are allowed and as such everybody interacted, worked together and became a real team truly enjoying the moment and being fully involved at all times which added to the realism and fear.
With many different venues across the country this particular storyline is based upon members of the public being led into the HARVERTECH facility for a vaccination against a virus outbreak which has led to various stages of zombification from infection. We had doctors and guards greet us along the way exchanging pleasantries as we were led into the medical facility for a routine treatment which was then overthrown by rebels on a rescue mission whilst exposing the organisations guilty secret. From having hoods put over our heads as we were led into the holding cells in complete darkness to creeping past cages of howling zombies, running through the infected and searching the halls and medical labs for information whilst the doors were being hammered down and barricaded – it was an absolutely exhilarating and adrenaline fuelled experience throughout.
I literally ran from room to room trying my hardest to stay in the middle of the group as you never knew when a zombie would come running out at you from the depths of the darkness. Their creepy groans and howls made my hair stand on end and had my heart racing the whole time, and although I knew it was all actors and nothing could actually hurt me the shock and fright factor alone had me screaming as I shot at each rotting snarling body. The low lighting and sheer size of the Court House across multiple levels was disorientating and the urgency of the actors and other escapees made the situation more frantic which really evoked the senses. Where I would have been hiding behind the safety of a cushion on my sofa at home I was thrown into the midst of the action live as it happened and it’s fantastically unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before – I didn’t know whether to scream or smile!
I especially loved the problem solving aspect of the experience, much like the concept of an escape room you have to solve puzzles and undertake challenges as the actors guide you through the escape to keep you on track yet ultimately ensure you overcome it as a team; real people, real responses, real action. Without wanting to expose the plot or ruin any surprises we acquired weapons to help us to fight the zombies which were replica blank-firing airsoft railguns just like in an action movie! But with limited ammo we had to use each shot wisely which is pretty intense when you have a blood-thirsty screeching zombie running straight at you from the darkness and everyone fires at once! It’s a combination of stealth, brains, teamwork and keeping it together during sheer panic to overcome the objectives and escape the courthouse.
I’m surprised how brave my boyfriend was as he voluntarily took the lead in the group several times, cleared rooms by going in first to check for zombies and had an awesome ability to navigate the building and remember where certain items were that we needed to retrieve. On the other hand I squealed at having a bag put over my head in the darkness, needed him to hold my hand down long corridors and may have accidentally used colourful language whilst blowing a zombies head off on a staircase but as time went on my inner action hero emerged and I was fighting back like the best of them. We both found the experience equally exhilarating, addictive and tantalisingly adventurous; a unique opportunity to get off of the sofa and into the screen. With gift vouchers available and multiple venues across the UK I’m smiling inside at the thought of taking my parents and best friend along to our next one!