The Wolf of Wall Street is the latest immersive offering from director Alexander Wright, based on the 2013 film about unscrupulous stockbroker Jordan Belfort. The premise is that we - the audience - are all new employees at Belfort’s cash-swindling firm Stratton Oakmont. Right from the off, we’re told to pledge allegiance to Belfort by dropping to our knees, thumping our chests and chanting “Jordan f#!cking Belfort!”. Party music blares as fake £100 notes rain from the ceiling. Then the FBI comes on a raid, and we hastily skedaddle.
It’s all very exciting at first, and the maze of different rooms at the specially-designed venue give a satisfying sense of being transported between locations as one moves around. Once the initial novelty wears off, however, what promises to be a high-powered evening of entertainment quickly fizzles out.
The actors do their best, slipping into multiple roles and accents to maintain momentum. Unfortunately, they’re all one-dimensional caricatures, a casualty of seeing only brief interactions as we’re herded from one scene to the next. Oliver Tilney (Jordan Belfort) makes a cartoon-worthy stockbroker gone bad, and actress MJ Lee impressed if only with the sheer number of different roles she took on. The dialogue, which starts up like Punch and Judy once we crowd into each room, feels wooden and we have little agency to deviate from our predetermined path. Despite the scripted bits of audience interaction – stuffing money into duffel bags, smuggling pills in condoms – it fails to engage.
Even our presence in the show is questionable. As newly-hired employees, it makes little sense for us to be flown en masse to Geneva for Belmont’s business meeting, and all pretence of realism is dropped when we inexplicably end up in Belmont’s family home witnessing his domestic argument with his wife. The darker themes of the play were completely undercut by the audience – the wild card of immersive theatre. It was hard to concentrate on Stratton taking an overdose with tipsy, giggly City workers horsing around behind him, and the dismal image of Stratton’s wife sitting alone on the stairs was cheapened by people tittering at her as they walked by.
When you think about it, what is the point of turning the drug- and fraud-fuelled world of Stratton Oakmont into an immersive experience? Despite the show depicting domestic violence and an account of Belfort sexually assaulting an air stewardess, there is little point in pretending that this is a moral tale of warning. Rather, for £60 a pop, the show enables attendees to revel in the chance to say “f#!ck the poor” and “it’s too f#!cking easy to get away with sexual assault if you’re rich”. Oh, but ironically of course, because it’s in-character! At its core, the glorification of Belfort’s ill-gotten, lavish lifestyle leaves a bad taste in the mouth.