By Sarah Newall
Thrills, suspense, mystery and horror lie in wait for thousands of adventurers enjoying the fastest-growing entertainment phenomenon to hit the planet – The Escape Room.
At 900 and counting, each chamber is uniquely designed by a band of subversive lone creators who have found their own special calling. Meet the Wilford-born man who designed one of the most popular rooms in the UK.
Simon Stokes trades in terror, serving up squeals with a seasoning of cypher.
Known to his colleagues as The Key Master, he’s the founder and creator of Nottingham’s Escapologic, home to one of the UK’s most popular escape rooms.
For those in the dark, an escape room is an hour-long immersive adventure – 60 minutes in a uniquely themed locked chamber with up to five players. Escape means cracking codes, unveiling secret doors and unravelling the mind of the character whose world you temporarily inhabit.
Simon said: “Escape rooms are new, they’re clever and people have been playing the games on their phones for years. Now they want to play them in real life.
“During the past 12 months I’ve been at the wrong end of a male-wielding hammer, made a fully-grown man wet himself, another physically sick and caused countless panic attacks but people love it and keep coming back for more.”
Starting in Japan about 10 years ago, the rooms are now an international phenomenon with popular themed ones opening every month. Simon has played 80 rooms himself and escaped all bar one, The Bad Clown in Macclesfield which is no longer open.
The rooms opened in October 2015 and success rates for escape vary between 15 to 50%.
When Simon is creating a room, he quite literally sits in the middle of it – always an underground and abandoned building – and waits for inspiration.
He added: “I sit there and wait and see what comes through the walls. It’s like writing, it will either come that day or it won’t. Some rooms naturally lend themselves to stories.
“I can’t think of anything else I would rather do with my life and the reality is that I just love Mondays. I have a fantastic group of staff around me, we all work hard, play hard and have a lot of fun. We don’t do it for money we do it for love.
“Making people happy is very rewarding and all I can say is that I take it very personally when people don’t enjoy themselves in my rooms.”
Simon is currently working on creating Leicester’s Escapologic in the vaults of the former NatWest bank in St Martins.
Opening in the new year, there will initially be three rooms with eight planned for the end of 2018.
The rooms are a World War II missile communication base, a nuclear reactor room and one which will involve travelling back in time to a Victorian laboratory in a bid to remove a strain of bacteria to prevent an outbreak in the present day.