Well well, here we are again. Introducing you to yet another of our beautifully twisted game hosts. Today we have a mystical treat for you as we take you into the realms of Leon Simmonds who plays Gabriel for Lady Chastity’s Reserve in Brighton.
This man was once described as ‘the love child of Tim Burton, Jack Sparrow and Eddie Izzard’. So, just picture that for a moment and throw copious amounts of (biodegradable) glitter, a shit load of magical-mischief and general silliness into that mix, and you’ve pretty much got the picture.
If you hadn’t guessed already, beyond his refreshing biological make-up and talents as an escape room host, Leon is also a magician and immersive performance artist. He’s also one of the masterminds behind ‘Riddles in the Dark’ – playful and entertaining shows that offer an escapist twist. Just like our escape rooms, all of Leon’s exploits playfully quench the thirst of an experience economy and push the boundaries of imagination. That’s enough teasing, grab a spoon and tuck in. After all, Leon loves a good spoon.
How long have you been a host for HMM and how did you first get involved?
I’ve been part of this wonderfully weird family for just over 2 years now, and I was first shown a casting call for the role whilst away performing at Secret Garden Party. I contacted Ben and James but missed the first auditions as I was working. Lucky for me they had a good feeling and invited me back. I’ll never forget them staring quite blankly at me after my first performance of the part, then at each other, and just saying “Interesting… we’ve never seen a Gabriel quite like that before”. I thought I had completely messed it up, but then got the call the next morning. I’ve been in love with playing the character ever since!
Thinking back to your first game hosting experience, how did you feel? Any newbie challenges?
YES! One of the first games I hosted was for Warner Bros. I was already slightly nervous, so of course the sound completely cut out! Talk about getting thrown in at the deep end. Luckily I’m a pretty good swimmer. I was actually surprised how well Gabriel’s shoes fitted! There was definitely some trial and error, but it’s been a shit load of fun from that very first game.
What is it about Lady Chastity’s Reserve that gets players buzzing so much?
You are transported into a delightfully dark world of salacious spirits, debauched decadence, wild orgies and candlelit whispers of a bottle of fabled aphrodisiac wine. If that doesn’t make you drip inappropriately in one way or another, then I don’t know what will… or do I?
What would you say to anyone who hasn’t experienced an escape room before?
“Hold onto your potatoes Dr Jones, you’re in for a bumpy ride!”
What do you think it takes to be a good game host?
Being able to pour yourself into the character but also engaging and understanding your audience quickly. They change every time, so there can be tiny or major differences. You need to be able to see that, use it and tailor your performance in a way that works for them. I personally think that great acting is really just reacting, so being able to go off-script and improvise is definitely a necessity for a good host. It’s the gateway to maximum impact, but mostly a shit load of fun! Also imperative………… PATIENCE.
If you could pick a celeb to host the game who would it be and why?
I think it may have to be Richard O’Brien. I grew up watching The Crystal Maze and never thought I would end up working in that world. So even though our game, and the character is very different, it would be a great opportunity for an ultimate nostalgic escape room overload! Plus I just performed my first ‘Boylesque’ routine to ‘Sweet Transvestite’ from The Rocky Horror Picture Show which he wrote – so I’d love to show him!
Tell us more about your other creative exploits…
I am lucky and proud to say that I am basically Peter Pan, living in Wonderland, graduated from Hogwarts, having passed through The Labyrinth… and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
So aside from Handmade Mysteries, I perform privately as a Magician, both walkabout and on stage. For anything from Corporate events and Weddings, to Festivals and Freak shows and just about everything in between! Over the last few years I have found myself drawn to more weird and wonderful immersive roles, which I honestly think is the future of performance art.
We are now living in a world where experience is becoming our economy, so aiming to create an extraordinary experience in every aspect of my work has now become my focus and inspiration, every single day.
I also run my own events for a company called ‘Riddles in the Dark’, which I started 3 years ago with my good friend and fellow Magician, David Stewart. As well as creating performances and providing entertainment for festivals and events, we create a number of different shows, with different themes in different environments, for different reasons! Although they are quite different, they are all born of the same basic principles: escapism, interaction, entertainment and PLAY!
I really think that play in all forms is so important now more than ever, and in adults just as much as children! After all it’s how we first began to learn. It’s how we can relax and forget about the things that hold us back. It’s how we can drop our guard – even just for a moment and just have some fun!
That all sounds wonderful, what inspires you to perform?
I work my absolute ass off to support everything I do. To live this kind of lifestyle you simply have to, especially in this day and age, and when you are self employed it never really stops. But.. if it means that we can keep giving people that childhood sense of wonder, imagination and pure magic, and encourage them to step out of ‘normality’ into a world that breathes creativity. That challenges them and shows them things they may have never seen before, and will never forget. It’s worth every drop of the blood, sweat and tears!
It does sound like a lot of work. How do you manage your time?
With great difficulty! And honestly, I rarely stop. In one way or another i’m always pushing things forward. At various stages of the creative design process, managing and promoting on all the different projects and aspects of my work. It can be hard, seemingly relentless work, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
Everyone wants to run away and join the circus, but you what you don’t see in that fantasy is life behind the curtain. If you want to run away and join the circus it’s a life-long marathon, not a sprint!
Through the hall of mirrors where distorted realities, insecurities, anxiety and self doubt lie and at every turn. But every time you make it through, the lights come on, the crowd arrives, it’s show time and everything else just melts away. Once you reach the big finale and get to see the look on their faces, the smiles that don’t fade away, the gasps of pure wonder, and the feeling of magic in the air… for all of that, it’s worth the marathon every time. Just make sure you have comfy shoes.
Is there a day in the week when you just take a break from dressing up and have some down time?
I do try and take breaks when I can. You absolutely have to otherwise you just burn out! So whenever I can, l love to travel. Escape to the countryside, the beach or anywhere else that I can be immersed in nature. It’s incredibly humbling to reconnect with where and what we all come from. It helps you put things back into perspective and it’s bloody beautiful!
As for ‘dressing up’ not really! It’s just another expression of who I am, and another way for me to really feel myself and also, it’s art. It’s another chance to be creative, to not take yourself too seriously and to have fun! I’ve always said that if you are walking down the street in your favourite wears and little children are stopping what they are doing to gawp at you, you’re definitely doing something right.
If someone reading this wants to get more adventurous and creative, what advice would you give them about getting into the Leonesque game?
Do not talk. This is a very clever play on words that was given to me recently. Just by putting a brief pause in there, it becomes do, not talk. So stop saying to yourself ‘oh I couldn’t ever wear that, I couldn’t get on stage or act like that in front of people’. If it’s something you want to do, give it a try!
Life’s way too short to be boring and play by the rules all the time. So, get out there, throw on some glitter, get your cross-dress on and just have some fun! The funny thing is that almost everyone that goes to a festival is more than happy to do it for one weekend, and then come Monday, everything reverts back to ‘normal life’. Well, here’s a plot twist, there’s no such thing. It’s what you make of it!
If it feels so good to get dressed up at a festival, to let go and have a great time, to try things you’ve never done before, then why does it have stop stop on Monday? That snazzy sparkly jacket made you feel amazing? It still will every other day of the week! So please, do me a favour and drag all your amazing clothes, props (and whatever else) is locked up in your wardrobe until ‘next festival season’ and wear the shit out of it at every given opportunity! Or…… give it to me and i’ll happily do it for you 😉
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks to Handmade Mysteries and especially Ben, James and Kevin for giving me such an amazing opportunity! I love being one of the beautiful freaks in the family and it has opened up a brand new door to my world, which I hope to never close!
Still with us or rushing off to get your cosplay on?
If you want an experience with Leon as your host you will find him at the new Brighton venue in London Road, The World’s End. To stay up to date with all of Leon’s weird and wonderful exploits you can visit his website www.leonsimmondsmagic.co.uk or search for ‘Leon Simmonds’ and ‘Riddles in the Dark’ on Facebook.
If you enjoyed this twisted literary treat, you might also like our recent interview with playful Handmade Mysteries game host (and part-time zombie), Gemma Tubbs.