Published: 08:00, 20 January 2016
Fancy yourself as the next Sherlock Holmes or Poirot? Well here’s your chance to prove it.
Never mind 221B Baker Street, Old Town Hall in Gravesend High Street is now the ultimate challenge for budding detectives with a penchant for finding clues and solving riddles.
The historic building is home to The Panic Room, an ingenious new ‘escape room’ from the minds of couple Monique and Alex Souter.
It tasks teams of friends, families and work colleagues with using their intellect and initiative to find their way out of a locked room within an hour.
While it may sound simple, a series of deceptively devious puzzles stands in your way.
“It is the closest you can get to being in an action movie,” said Monique, 27, who lives with Alex, 25, in Singlewell Road.
“Everyone’s reaction who has previously done escape rooms has said it is great and at least as good as the others they have done.
“We get inspiration and ideas from other rooms because we want to be as good as them, if not better.
“But you do not want to directly copy anything – every room has to be unique.”
There is plenty of competition when it comes to escape rooms – there are more than 100 of them in the UK alone – and the pair are true aficionados.
When not working at the nearby Imperial Business Park, they can often be found in an escape room.
They have done about 30 of them across 15 locations, from Chatham to Atlanta to Orlando, and will celebrate Valentine’s Day by attempting to complete seven London escape rooms in one day.
“We have seen so many different places now that we know what works and what does not work quite as well, and we wanted to put our own kind of stamp on it,” explained Alex.
“Every experience is different, every room offers something different.
“A lot of people have not experienced it before and then when they do they really like it.”
The Panic Room has impressed visitors so far, with a delicate blend of puzzles and storytelling to create a tense atmosphere.
Alex reckons the success rate is about 50%, which suggests the level of challenge is spot on, with the quickest completion time taking 42 minutes and seven seconds.
The Messenger team did manage to escape but fell some way short of that record – more Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes – with a time of 59 minutes and 57 seconds.
Having been left stumped by a magnetic maze and left ruing our knowledge of European cities, there were mere seconds to spare when we finally cracked the final lock.
Hints and tips are available but most taking part are reluctant to sacrifice the satisfaction of working it for themselves.
“With every room you do you hit a brick wall and then push past – you get that ‘aha’ moment and it is exciting,” said Alex.
“We have not received a single negative review. Even people who did not finish have still loved it and have asked when our next room is open.”
That next room has a horror theme and is dubbed The Witch House, with Alex and Monique keen to up the immersion and the production values.
“We want it to be as awesome as it can be,” said Monique.
“We have put a lot of money into it and all the money we make goes straight into the next room.
“By putting more into it you make it a better experience for everyone, which means more people will come.”
The Witch House is due to open on March 4, and the couple are hoping to move into a new venue with space for multiple escape rooms.
Locals should not worry, though, because the intention is still to remain in Gravesend.
“We will be staying in Gravesend but it is just a matter of finding the right venue,” said Alex.
Monique is similarly keen to stay in Gravesend and help fulfil its untapped potential.
She said: “We are number four in fun and attractions in Gravesend on Trip Advisor because there are only four things considered fun or an attraction in Gravesend!”
“It is a shame because the town has a lot of potential.
“It is a labour of love – we are doing this out of love, not to make a quick buck.”
Business is booming and interest is plentiful, so those interested are encouraged to book in advance at thepanicroom.net.