Black Tonic, The Place Hotel, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

In Black Tonic, devised by the Birmingham-based company The Other Way Works, an audience of two couples play detectives piecing together a dramatic jigsaw acted out in the lobby, corridors and bedrooms of a hotel. Instructions are issued by phone or shakily typed notes in Clare Duffy's ingenious web of fantasy mingled with reality, directed by Katie Day and nimbly executed by a small cast.

After checking in to Manchester's Place Hotel we're offered a Black Tonic to sip while the rooms are prepared. At one table, two guests innocently swap stories while, a little nearer, a married couple called Steve and Helen fool fondly around. My fellow traveller and I share the lift with them – Steve now moody and apparently jet-lagged – on the way to our penthouse apartment. Before we reach our destination, Room 503, Helen runs forward to assist a young lady who is lying apparently injured on the ground. Assured there's nothing we can do, we're told to close our door behind us.

Video sequences flash across the television monitor, then room service is temporarily interrupted as a chambermaid Lena (Magdalena Tuka) rushes to our bathroom to throw up. She's clearly troubled by what she has seen elsewhere. Marie (Louise Platt), squirting air freshener, begs us to turn a blind eye, bribing us with extra pillow chocolates.

Outside the door, a full-scale row is erupting. My co-detective and I have our ears bent separately by Helen and Steve. It's hard knowing how to respond to a young woman pouring out her heart about the apparent faithlessness of her husband and begging for advice. After all, I saw the incriminating evidence slipped into her handbag downstairs. How interactive should we be? Should we strong-arm the maid who has stolen a laptop? The blind man in the darkened room clearly expects a vocal response. He has a tick, he says, "but no light to reset my tock". This, it turns out, is a clue.

Thrust into a room with stuff strewn on the floor, we find clues as to the identity of Anna, who specialises in "professional relationship restoration". A jet-lag pack – containing melatonin tablets, an eye mask and a blue lightbox – presents another twist in this mystery about anonymity and intimacy, the effects of light and sleep deprivation, and a blind date between the nightly life of a hotel and the endless possibilities of dramatic fiction.

Details of future performance at www.theotherwayworks.co.uk

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