The Twenty-Sided Tavern

08/08/22

Pleasance Dome, Bristo Place, Edinburgh

The Twenty-Sided Tavern is billed as experiential entertainment, “destined to delight everyone, from hardcore fans of D&D to those just dipping a toe into the world of role-playing games”. It doesn’t quite live up to this promise. As a toe-dipper, I find it baffling and a little dull. But I’m an outlier here: the show is a sell-out, and the bulk of the audience clearly falls into the former category. Their laughter is raucous; they’re having a whale of a time.

The premise is simple: it’s a choose your own adventure with added dice. We’re in a tavern, and there are three players onstage (Carlina Parker, Mateo Ervin and Madelyn Murphy), as well as a game master (David Andrew Greener Laws) and the tavern keeper (Sarah Davis Reynolds). We’re asked to access their website via a QR code and, from thereon in, it’s interactive insofar as we are allocated a team, then asked to choose which of three characters each player adopts, and to vote between two options at various points along the way. A couple of people are brought onstage for panto-style audience-participation moments, where they’re told to role a dice or throw balls into a pot. And there are a couple of riddles to answer.

But the game-play is more complex, and – to the uninitiated – rather confusing. When they roll a dice, they call the number, but then add other numbers for no reason I can discern (we’re here with two family members who love a good table-top role-playing game, and they explain it to me later). I can see that it would be fun to actually play, if I were inhabiting a character, and was actively involved in shaping the storyline. However, I don’t really enjoy watching it, especially as the players don’t seem to explore their roles beyond a few surface characteristics.

It feels rushed too; indeed, it over-runs by ten minutes, which is a no-no at the Fringe, where audiences and venues have tightly-managed schedules. There’s too much to fit into seventy minutes. It doesn’t help that the tech isn’t working properly (the wifi isn’t strong enough), so a lot of the voting is done in the old ‘analogue’ way – which team can cheer the loudest?

It’s a good idea, and it’s clearly pleasing a lot of people, so I can’t dismiss this out of hand. But I’d file this under ‘for the fans’.

2.5 stars

Susan Singfield

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