The Murder Express With Funicular Productions

Creating the immersive Murdér Express with Funicular Productions

All aboard! Toast.Life chats to immersive collective Funicular’s co-founder Craig Wilkinson to hear about how they set about creating their debut immersive experience The Murdér Express, as well as his top tips for keeping creative when entertaining at home

Creating immersive experiences these days is no easy feat. Over recent years the trend in these extraordinary events has sky-rocketed, as has the demand for boundary-pushing and serious, Insta-worthy WOW factor. In order to deliver you need to know what you’re doing and have all the right experience and knowledge, which something that the newly formed Funicular Productions has in abundance. Co-founded by entrepreneur, actor and scriptwriter Craig Wilkinson and production director Ed Borgnis, the team boasts years of experience bringing events and theatre to life for brands, clients and audiences all over the world.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted that I’d end up doing what I do now!” explains Craig. “But I’ve always pushed and worked tirelessly to do something fun, creative and independently, and always moved in that direction looking for and creating out of the box work opportunities” 

And it’s safe to say that he has definitely found that with Funicular. The company officially launched in January 2018, spurred on by an opportunity to rescue what Craig describes as ‘an amazing set’, which just so happened to be a life-sized train carriage that had just finished touring around Europe.

“We couldn’t let it go to recycling! So we gathered all our friends and family and set about our business plan” Craig explains. 

“The name? Well we wanted something unusual, unique and something that meant something to us. A couple of us had ridden The Peak Tram, which is a funicular  railway in Hong Kong after completing a very challenging event there – we’d had literally no sleep all week and were exhausted, our event had been hit by a typhoon with a day to go after a 3 day build! It was our last day, we had de-rigged the event through the night, the sun had risen and each day we could see the peak, so we decided to head over before we flew back that afternoon. It was an incredible feeling after pulling off the event and the views very much worth it!” he explains.

“We also felt that we were at the bottom of a proverbial mountain with a task ahead of us, hoping that it was an upward trajectory where we are heading. We just hope we never hit our peak! Oh and Funicular has the word FUN in it - who could not love that?!”

 Quite. And so for their debut production Funicular decided to kick off their immersive journey with a bang and create a night of atmospheric intrigue, exciting escapism and delicious food, aboard a very evocative ‘Murdér Express’, determined to inject new life into the immersive dining industry...

“We want to transport our guests in to our world for the time they are with us and offer them a completely unique experience they would not get anywhere else” explains Craig.

“It’s fantastic to see so many quality, unique experiences around and I think we’re all different in what we are offering. Most rely on the power of existing stories or topics, whilst we are striving to constantly create unique shows and experiences. I think that The Murdér Express shows that it isn’t a traditional murder mystery and was written specifically for this experience”

Funicular Productions

Funicular Train Mystery Set

Funicular Murder Mystery

Using cutting edge production technology, guests step aboard 'The Murdér Express' and are instantly transported back in time to the grandeur of the 19th century, aboard a glamorous train complete with lavish furnishings, Departing from Funicular’s ‘Pedley Street Station’ in East London, passengers are invited to take an eventful journey from London to the fictional town of Murdér in France. Before departure passengers are invited to wet their whistles in the station’s ‘Seven Sins Bar’, where they are joined by characters such as Frank - an East End Costermonger, music hall star Tilley, and Vera - a widow in search of adventure…

“We had quite a few inspirations - Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express of course - probably the most famous murder mystery set on a train! Through to Marie Lloyd - a music hall  star from Hoxton who inspired the creation of Tilley. We also worked closely with amazing costume supervisor Chris Cahill who is one of the best in the industry and helped with period referencing along with a lot of background reading” explains Craig.

“The creative process is based on collaboration and brainstorming. Share ideas no matter how silly or dull and evolve them, bin them, resurrect them, bin them, be honest, truthful, respectful and take feedback constructively, starting with my fellow founders whose opinions I respect greatly. I like to get a script down and get in to rehearsals to see it come to life quickly, so worked closely with my co-writer Bobby Lee Darby. If the actors are enjoying performing it, that’s a good sign for me!” 

Funicular Express Champers

Murder Express Funincular Actors

Once guests have made full use of the bar they then embark, via a smoke-filled platform, on the Murdér Express itself, and straight in to an elegant dining car, featuring plush booth seating and period fixtures and fittings. To ensure that the experience is truly immersive, the Funicular set is equipped with eight large format LCD displays in the interior 'windows' of the carriage, which display original 4k footage shot on a heritage steam railway in the Welsh Highlands, so guests can well and truly sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way. 

The train carriage sound system also consists of an impressive eight discrete audio channels which when combined with the video, gives the train a very convincing sense of movement. Further atmospheric effects such as smoke and haze instantly create the look and feel of a fully functioning steam engine, and inside the temperature of the carriage interior is controlled with dedicated air conditioning throughout the journey. Both the train and platform are fully equipped with LED lighting to illuminate, set the mood and highlight the features of the train, whilst booth tables are lit with period table lamps and lighting on the platform and in the bar area is provided by period lamp-posts and atmospheric industrial pendants. 

“The overall experience should leave everyone stepping outside afterwards with a ‘wow, I forgot we were here!’ feeling. It really does transport you to another world and I’m really proud of that” explains Craig. 

In the past, some immersive experiences have been let down by the quality of the food served, which is often treated an afterthought in comparison to the elaborate décor, but not on the Murdér Express, oh no. Determined to avoid this pitfall, Craig enlisted the culinary skills of none other than Masterchef ‘losers’ and everyone’s favourite supper club kings Billy and Jack.

“They’ve been tremendous to work with and have created a delicious menu. They’ve been involved with training our kitchen team who work tirelessly to achieve great results too. Head chef Jason and his team deserve a huge shout out for their super human efforts!” Craig enthuses.

Pinpep Train 001

Funicular Dish

Billy and Jack’s delicious dining car menu includes authentic and evocative dishes that complement and further enhance the era and atmospheric surroundings; dishes such as mulligatawny soup, ‘Butler’s steak’ and a rather special dessert…

“Billy and Jack took inspiration from recipe books from the 1930’s and even from one that belonged to Jacks grandmother! They found an apple tart recipe with a twist from a woman called Lady Portalington which featured in Vogue, so they created our dessert as a homage to this” explains Craig.

“When you eat the apple tart knowing this, it adds more to your experience of this delicious dessert. Story telling brings a different dynamic and experience to the traditional way of ordering from a menu in a restaurant - it gives context to the surroundings, it can be educating, offers an element of surprise, a gratitude for the ingredients themselves and I believe a more sensory experience by having all of your senses heightened, active and alive!”

And as for the plot? Well Craig’s lips are tightly sealed. You’ll just have to visit if you want to find out whodunnit. And when it comes to the immersive experience movement as a whole, what does Craig think might be next on the proverbial menu?

“I wish I knew!” he exclaims.  

“I think we’ll see it become more mainstream from film and TV spinoffs which makes a lot of sense. It’s easy to say it will be tech driven but we do often see tech for tech’s sake and the narrative is lost unless it’s from a huge studio. I’ve already seen some pretty boundary pushing immersive events, from an extremely gory horror in Berlin where I needed to use a safe word to leave to the incredible Pandora Disney experience - this says a lot about me I’m sure!” he grins.

“Two completely different but both fully immersive and both different budgets. Technology offers more scope but is cost prohibitive. The beauty of the genre is the creative minds in it - I can’t predict the future but know that as we all keep looking to do something different each time, the creativity will birth many new and exciting experiences for all”

If you’d like to work with Funicular Productions you can find their contact details and more info on their page in Toast.Life’s Little Black Book. The Murdér Express is on until 23rd September. Tickets start at £53 plus a £2.65 booking fee, per ticket, and can be purchased online at www.funicularproductions.com.

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