Access goes behind the scenes at Rematch, an immersive event provider which transports fans back to re-live iconic sporting moments through theatrical events. Founder Richard Ayres tells AAA about its plans for expansion and its latest project, Rumble in the Jungle, at London’s Dock X.
Richard Ayres’ love for sport and immersive events gave him the idea to ambitiously blend the two with Rematch, the ‘Sporting Time Machine’. Four years after its debut event, Wimbledon Rematch – the award-winning live recreation of the 1980 Borg vs McEnroe Wimbledon Final – comes Rematch’s latest project, Rumble in the Jungle.
The event, located at Venue Lab’s East London warehouse Dock X (cap. 1,500), transports attendees back to the 1974 boxing fight between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Billed as ‘part theatre show, part festival’, the event features a live re-creation of the fight with actors, pop-up press conferences, a James Brown live music performance and authentic Congolese food stalls.
Ayres, who is also founder and chairman of IMG-owned digital sport consultancy Seven League, says Rematch has plans to host events overseas and work with other sporting clients. It is currently in talks with Premier League football clubs to re-create iconic moments from their club’s history.
Since launching Rumble in the Jungle in September, Ayres says the Rematch team have had time to make several tweaks to the event along the way, but each event comes with its own challenges: “We’re bringing in a sports and boxing audience and people who like Muhammad Ali, and a lot of these people have never been to an immersive experience before,” he says.
“It’s not like a standard play where it’s been written as a script and done a million times. It’s an immersive experience so you’re reacting with the audience. It’s also about signposting to them that this isn’t a normal theatre performance.”
The Rematch team does so through live actors interacting with attendees, discouraging them to always be on their mobile phone to keep authenticity, and a ‘soul train’ dance at the beginning to get them moving.
Before the attendees make their way into a separate room for the main theatre show (written by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu and directed by Miguel H Torres Umba), a festival atmosphere is created in Dock X through live soukous music and the aroma of Congolese food.
Rematch CEO Les Seddon-Brown, former managing director of client events at Vision Nine, used his experience working at festivals such as Boardmasters and NASS to bring in Congolese food supplier Deluxe Manna and African and Caribbean food supplier The Future Plate.
This African authenticity, Ayres says, has helped create a diverse audience demographic for each show, which is often more than 50% Black.
“A lot of the Black London community who are coming have Congolese family or an African background – so they are coming with that expectation and they are blown away by the authenticity. We even had someone from the Congolese embassy who was very complimentary of the attention to detail. Operationally speaking it’s worked really well.”
Rematch organisers have since announced a ‘Blackout’ performance on 30 November, where a solely all-Black-identifying audience can experience the event in the hope it will “reflect the spirit of the original Rumble in the Jungle”.
Immersive vs theatre
After the success of 2019’s Wimbledon pilot event, Rematch “went quiet for four years” and was forced to start from scratch again after the pandemic, with “no database and pretty much no brand”, says Ayres.
The 2019 pilot only ran for five shows, compared to more than 90 this time around, meaning there is now a greater “duty of care” for the actors. “It’s very much a marathon not a sprint,” he says.
The event, which runs until 9 December, has gained the support of the Mohammed Ali social media channels which has given it more exposure on a global scale. Meanwhile, Ayres says working more with event discovery platform Fever – known for its focus on immersive – has also helped with ticket sales.
Ayres said the current Rematch team has an immersive theatre background, as opposed to the more theatrical background of Wimbledon Rematch, which featured far less audience interaction.
He explains the difference: “With a theatrical show, there’s one timeline which is linear. What happens with immersive is it’s much more like a Gantt chart operationally speaking. There are four narratives, which means there are four timelines all interweaving and all triggering at different moments. Every single actor is wearing a watch and they’re all synced. It’s incredibly regulated and tight.”
There’s also a big difference in how the audience experiences it, says Ayres: “Generally speaking older audiences are more worried about things going on simultaneously that they’re missing out on – whereas younger audiences, particularly those who are used to immersive, think it’s awesome that there are loads of different things going on – even if they miss out on something that someone in another group saw.”
Ayres says the aim is to take Rumble in The Jungle to other locations around the world such as Vegas, other European countries and the Middle East. Its upcoming product, ‘Rematch FC’, is set to pilot in the next six months, with several Premier League clubs in conversation with the Rematch team to host the events.
“This will be a more simple, cut-down version, but there will be a bigger audience than you experience at Rumble in the Jungle.”