An Interview with Agent November
Agent November is a true master of his craft, which is designing & operating the fun-filled frolics that are Escape Rooms. He’s also on his way to Brighton…
Where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m originally from Penzance, Cornwall, where I grew up as one of five children. It’s tough to compete with my overachieving siblings – for example my twin sister has won 2 gold medals at the Olympics (for rowing the women’s pair in London and Rio)! I’ve studied in Cardiff and Birmingham Universities, and now I live and work in Bloomsbury, London, where I operate my fictional detective agency. There I play the titular “Agent November, battling my nemesis Marty Orri on a regular basis.
Where did the idea for your escape games originate?
It’s hard to say, as there are so many little ideas that are woven together to make the final product, and I draw pieces of inspiration from board games, role playing games, immersive theatre, computer games and movies. But if I had to pick my biggest influences, I’d say it was the two British Classics – Bond and Holmes. The original idea was to tie together the tense action of 007 with the brainpower and lateral thinking of the world’s first consulting detective, and I always have that in mind as I develop new ideas.
Can you tell us about “Unlock Parliament?”
Unlock Parliament was the first (and so far only!) escape game to run inside the Houses of Parliament, and it was designed as a bespoke experience to engage people in the work of Parliament. Teams of players had to race against the clock and solve a series of challenging lateral thinking problems. Each one of these problems related in some way to the problems that members of Parliament have to overcome in order to pass laws for the U.K. It was great to get people excited about what Parliament does, and show them how complicated and nuanced lawmaking is. The ending of the game changed depending on whether or not the team completed all the puzzles in time or not. If they were successful, a bill would be passed giving Agent November special crime fighting powers to deal with super villains, if not then the bill would fail. It was great to combine lots of different elements in the game, including physical puzzles, video content, actor narration, audience interaction, and role playing.
This will be your third year running the game – what have you learnt from the previous two outings?
We’ve run the game twice before at the Edinburgh Fringe, but this is our first time taking it to Brighton. What I learned in my first year was that running 275 shows is actually quite a lot of work! I ran most of those shows that year, and that really wiped me out; I needed another month to recover! So this year I will have another actor doing more of the games, just so I can have a bit of a break, and actually go and see some of other shows myself. That’s definitely something that I’ve learned on previous years; Fringe is a great chance to expand one’s horizons and I mustn’t get too focused on just my show and forget to enjoy the experience. Something else I’ve learned is how much fun people get out of joining in solving puzzles with strangers. In London we mostly run “private” events, i.e. someone will book a show for 3-8 people, and everyone in that group knows each other before the game starts. At Fringes we have “open” ticketing (the same as conventional theatre does), so you never know who is going to be on your team! I’ve found that this has been a great social mixer for people coming to the Fringe, and I know that some people have gone on to make friends with their new teammates in the bar after their game is over!
How do you win a TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence, then win two more?
You have to get consistently good reviews, for 12 months in a row, to win a certificate. 97% of our reviews are 4 or 5 out of 5. I think the key to keeping the standard high is to never really be happy with how things are; always be looking for things that we can improve. I have pages of things that I still want to add to the experience, and I’m sure that this year I’ll think of several pages more. I always take feedback from customers and my actors seriously, and I encourage a culture of honesty in my staff. That way people feel like they can speak their mind about ways that we can improve, and feel like they are going to be listened to.
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Fight Club, Shawshank Redemption and Castaway. That last one is a good movie, and it’s definitely helped by the irony factor in the situation.
What’s the biggest challenge about taking on this role?
The new environment – I’ve never done the Brighton Fringe before, so it’m sure it’ll take me a while to work out all the foibles like the best place to go give out flyers, or the times that things will be busy / quiet. But at the same time it’s the thrill of the unknown that makes it exciting for me!
What have you got for us this year?
We’ll be investigating the Museum of Secrets, a mysterious enclave that houses politically sensitive artifacts. The museum was recently robbed, which could have potentially world-shattering consequences, so you’ll have to act fast to prevent a disaster!
Why the two different adventures?
The two different adventures allow players to investigate different aspects of the same crime. In a sense, these “missions” are like sequels to each other, except that people can play them in either order, and don’t need to have played the other one first to get the full experience. However, by playing them both, one starts to develop a bigger picture of the universe that links the two missions, and there are hints of a bigger mystery lurking beneath the surface. I have plans to potentially bring a third adventure to the Fringe next year, and hope one day to produce a “final stage” challenge, that will only be accessible to people who have already taken on the other challenges.
What materials did you use during the research period?
I watched a lot of spy and detective dramas, plus my background in the Army certainly gives me an insight into the way that the real life security services operate.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Brighton, what would you say?
Hi there, have you played an escape game before? No? Well, now’s your chance! Come to the Brighthelm Centre and help me investigate, there was a robbery last night. You have to solve puzzles and challenges against the clock to defeat my nemesis and save the day. I need you! Here’s a flyer.
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
In late May we will be bringing our adventures to ConFuzzled for the 3rd year running – ConFuzzled is the U.K.’s biggest gathering of the “furry community”. (https://confuzzled.org.uk. We will also be returning for the third year running to the Edinburgh Fringe, with The Stand Comedy Club. We will be running 3 of our missions there, for the whole of August. In December we will be running our “Christmas Crisis” mission, a festive outing where players have to solve Christmas – themed puzzles to find out where Father Christmas has vanished to, and save Christmas itself! And of course all year round we will be running our missions in Bloomsbury, London.
May 3-12 / May 25-June 2 (various times)