Little Lion Entertainment has teamed up with 2000AD publisher Rebellion to bring an immersive new experience to London next spring. Blooloop talks to the two companies behind Judge Dredd Uprising: The LIVE Experience.
Immersive and experiential, Judge Dredd Uprising is darker than Little Lion’s existing Crystal Maze: LIVE Experience attractions in London and Manchester. The multi-level team attraction will teleport urban adventurers into a post-nuclear Piccadilly, in the year 2143.
The experience has a powerful IP at its core – the British sci-fi comic book character Judge Dredd.
“Brit-Cit, the Britain of Judge Dredd’s world, is a place that is going to shock and thrill people in equal measure,” says Rebellion’s CEO, Jason Kingsley OBE.
Little Lion Entertainment founder and CEO, Tom Lionetti-Maguire says the 2,785 square metre (30,000 square foot) indoor experience will be, “Part comic book, part sci-fi film, part immersive theatre, part escape room, part action-adventure and part indoor theme park.”
Over five zones of mental and skill challenges, players will need to outwit the Iso-Cube to escape from the Iso-Block. They will navigate a future Piccadilly Circus overrun with mutant, droid and gangster inhabitants, and engage in a laser tag battle for the Cursed Earth. The grand finale takes place in a replica of New Old Bailey, London’s famous crown court.
Judge Dredd jumps off the page
Since launching The Crystal Maze: LIVE Experience, Little Lion has been approached with many offers of intellectual property: “We are offered a new IP almost every week,” says Lionetti-Maguire. “But we turn most of them down.”
So what lead to Judge Dredd Uprising?
“We wanted to create a mega attraction where there are a lot of different things happening. Then we got quite carried away with both the prison escape and the sci-fi element. When we were introduced to the guys at Rebellion, it all just clicked.”
“We weren’t really looking to do an attraction,” says Kingsley. “But when Little Lion came to us with their fantastic track record and said how about Dredd, we thought it was a great idea.”
Kingsley, who is no stranger to role-playing (see him in action in the video below), soon realised the potential of bringing one of Rebellion’s biggest brands into the real world.
“We are used to working almost exclusively in the digital space. However, I used to do a lot of live-action role-play, back in the late 70s,” he says. “You could argue dressing up as a medieval knight riding horses is about as immersive as it gets. But to be able to experience the world of Judge Dredd physically, viscerally, that really adds another dimension.”
Judge Dredd Uprising will feature a cast of crooks, robots and convicts.
“We hire the best actors, performers and practitioners,” says Lionetti-Maguire. “I think immersive theatre is one of the bravest forms of performance, along with stand up comedy. You’ve not got the fourth wall or the stage in front of you, where everyone’s in the dark. Your audience is right there in your face.
“The pièce de résistance of this show is our imagining of future Piccadilly, which has become this subterranean dystopia with only a few vestiges left of the Piccadilly Circus we know today.”
Although Little Lion has grown its team considerably over the past few years, Lionetti-Maguire says he is pleased to be working on this project with a design and build partner that is “internationally famous.” The identity of the company will be revealed in due course.
“We had a first design meeting recently. Some of the stuff they have come up with is just mind-blowing. With The Crystal Maze, we wanted to stay quite analogue with the sets, in keeping with the TV show. But with Judge Dredd we are in a futuristic world, so we’ve really had to up the technology.”
“Throughout the brand’s history, Judge Dredd has painted a dark picture of the future,” says Kingsley. “And an awful lot of things have come to pass. For example, we have talked about disability issues, weight issues, refugees. There was a story about the Blobs; face-changing characters with swollen heads who insisted everyone has a barcode on their forehead for identification purposes.
“One of the Judge Dredd Classics, Cursed Earth, is about the 2T FruT (Tutti Frutti) virus. It turns people into lunatics. Dredd has to fight his way through with the vaccine, but at least there is a vaccine.”
Before it all becomes a bit a too pertinently dystopian, Kingsley also says: “We touch on current issues but do so from a slightly abstracted perspective that allows you to shed some of your prejudices. I think most art forms do that in one way or another.”
Judge Dredd Uprising: going live next spring
Judge Dredd Uprising: The LIVE Experience is on track for a spring 2021 debut in central London. Rather than being delayed by COVID-19, the closure of The Crystal Maze attractions during lockdown (both have now reopened, with limited capacity) allowed Little Lion to accelerate its efforts with the new venture.
Lionetti-Maguire won’t be drawn on the exact location, or if it will be anywhere near the real Piccadilly. “All I will say is it’s an internationally renowned and famous location; a tourist attraction of itself. Culturally it’s perfect for Dredd.”
In addition to the attraction itself, there will be a themed bar both during and after the experience.
“We like to offer a bar because, like a play, a football match or a gig, the first thing you want to do afterwards is discuss it with your friends.
“But we wanted to take it a step further in this show with a bar midway through. In the previous two zones, it’s action, action, action. So this will allow people to stop for a moment, go ‘Jeez, what just happened?’ and then before you know it they’re back off again on a journey.
“But, first and foremost, our love, care and dedication goes into the experience. It has to be a 5-star show.”
Little Lion Entertainment entered the attractions industry in 2016. Excited by the potential of immersive theatre, Tom Lionetti-Maguire was determined to create an experience of his own.
Prior to Judge Dredd Uprising, he created The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience, based on the fondly remembered British TV challenge game from the 1990s (revived in 2017).
Originally crowdfunded, The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience has been a hit with audiences in both London in Manchester, where it now enjoys the reputation of the city’s longest-running theatrical production. In London, the attraction moved into new West End premises last year. This was a particularly satisfying moment for Lionetti-Maguire.
“The London flagship is at the bottom on Shaftesbury Avenue, just by Piccadilly Circus. It established us as a tourist attraction and mainstay of British entertainment. But also I love the fact that we are now in the heart of theatreland. It felt like a nice validation of what we are doing.”
The world of Rebellion
As well as comic books, Rebellion has pedigree in the video game market with titles such as Alien Vs Predator, Rogue Trooper and Evil Genius. In late 2018, the company acquired a 220,000 complex near its Oxfordshire headquarters that it has since converted into TV/film studios.
Kingsley talks about the Dredd-loving demographic. “We typically divide our audience into the hardcore fans who will buy the comic, the magazine, the graphic novels and the computer games. As well as those super enthusiasts you’ve got people who used to like Judge Dredd a lot, and people who have seen the two movies or might have encountered it via genre sci-fi.”
With a Mega Cities One TV series in production at its Didcot studios, as well as new games in the Sniper Elite and Evil Genius franchises, Rebellion has a healthy pipeline of new content. Although there’s no new Judge Dredd movies or games planned, the comics keep on coming.
“One of the challenges for new readers is knowing where to start,” says Kingsley. “There’s a weekly comic book, monthly magazine, graphic novels and telephone book size Case Files collection of Judge Dredd stories. Of course, we have a lot of digital readers these days. That means you don’t have to wait for your Dredd fix if you’re in Australia.”
Judge Dredd Uprising: immersion for all
As a live experience, Lionetti-Maguire believes Judge Dredd Uprising can touch many more people. “The audience for this is massive,” he says.
“Evidently you’ve got the Dredd fans, you’ve got the sci-fi fans, but the wider market is 20 to 45-year-olds. It’s male, it’s female, anybody who’s been to a competitive socialising event.
“Something we’ve learned after four years of The Crystal Maze is that you don’t get to be a sell-out experience and speak to so many people without having a little something for everyone.”
“One of the reasons I got into immersive theatre,” says Lionetti-Maguire, “is that more traditional forms of theatre, and also opera and ballet, only really cater to one audience. That demographic is rather elderly and white. We get people from all walks of life, and that’s incredibly exciting to me.”
“There’s a broad range of psychologies, abilities and attitudes among the general public,” says Kingsley. “How do you handle those who might be terrified of this game? As well as those people who aren’t necessarily going to go along with it like everyone else?
“That’s something we’re aware of with Judge Dredd Uprising; how skilful everyone has to be to make it work for such a wide demographic.”
Little Lion goes Stateside
Like The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience, Lionetti-Maguire envisages Judge Dredd Uprising catering initially to a domestic audience but also picking up an international following as it goes on. Either way, he believes it’s a product with staying power.
“It’s not a pop-up. We build these shows in such a way that, frankly speaking, costs a lot of money. And we are hugely confident about what this latest show can do.”
In addition to the upcoming London attraction, Little Lion Entertainment has plans for international expansion in 2021.
“We have some frankly unbelievable and insanely exciting concepts and IPs that we’re already working with,” says Lionetti-Maguire. “I can confirm that the new range of attractions will be in North America.”
Judge Dredd’s global appeal
Judge Dredd does already have a following in the United States. “He’s better known for the movies than the comic books,” says Kingsley. “We have quite a lot of fans on the East Coast, West Coast, and in Dallas. Internationally, the brand is well known in metropolitan area areas that are largely English speaking. So we have lots of fans also in Australia and New Zealand.”
There is, however, one misconception Rebellion would like to address in the US. “Lots of people in America think Dredd is a Marvel character,” says Kingsley. “They get confused and want to know what his superpower is. I say he’s got a mean stare and a gun.”
Images courtesy of Rebellion and Little Lion Entertainment