Cursed City Dark Tide

The live part of the Cursed City – Dark Tide project ran throughout October and November 2019.

This page is a record of the transmedia event, highlighting some of the many different aspects to this really fun experiment in storytelling…

Be part of the story!

A restless spirit of a murdered women hunts for victims in a quiet seaside town.

  • Join the group…
  • Solve the puzzle…
  • Save the city from a crazed and vengeful spirit!

Cursed City – Dark Tide was a transmedia story that invited you to be part of the story and meet the characters who will guide you on your journey as you try and save the city from a lost soul, trapped between life and death. Until this soul is released the city of Portsmouth is in grave danger. Only you can save it!

The story was inspired by The Snow Witch novel from which we took three characters and established a premise for a new Snow Witch story in the same storyworld as the novel. The initial idea for the story premise came from the narrative structure of Noh theatre i.e. a wise traveller arrives at a place, they meet someone who turns out to be a spirit, through the encounter the spirit finds redemption.

  • Donnitza Kravitch – traveller, a musician with magical powers newly arrived in the city.
  • Reynold Lissitch – a shapeshifting trickster and a central character from the novel, was reimagined as a street artist.
  • Jane Downey – a character whose death provides much of the back story for the novel, she was reimagined as a ghost.
Author Matt Wingett and Producer Roy Hanney explain the premise for Cursed City – Dark Tide to That’s Solent TV.

The Evolution of Story Writers Workshops

The evolution of story writers workshops
The Evolution of Story Writers workshops saw a dedicated band of creatives form around the project.

From an initial group of around 25 people who participated in the writer’s workshops, a core group of around 5 people continued to work on the project facilitated by Matt Wingett. Hosted at the University of Portsmouth the group meet on an irregular basis over the period June to September 2019. The group met with mentor Alison Norrington a further two times during this period to review progress and input high-quality feedback.

The core writers group for Cursed City - Dark Tide
The core writers group for Cursed City – Dark Tide.

The writers each developed a new character for the story and created a Facebook profile for that person. We launched the Facebook group Against the Tide in September 2019 and our characters all joined and started to converse about the haunting of the city by an unknown ghost.

Read the Dark Tide Dossier created by our writers and get up to speed on the back story prior to the start of Cursed City – dark Tide. The stories in the FREE downloadable booklet are not for the faint-hearted, they will tell tales that you will have your hair standing on end.

Meet the men and women who worked to save the city from an impending doom:

Carys Llangibby

Carys Llangibby SQSingle, Welsh ex-detective with a tragic past. You’ll find Carys talking conspiracy theories with anyone who’ll listen down at her local pub. She’s on a mission to find out why people keep going missing in the town.

Amie Pannet

Amie Pannet SQFun-loving, loves music, often seen at Astoria dancing and drinking Snakebite. Will read Tarot for anyone who asks but her interest in the mystical and spiritual world may have drawn her into the darker side of these crafts.

Glenda Blake

Glenda Blake SQBarmaid, crystal healer and Mother figure, runs the King Street Tavern almost single headedly (she thinks). Searching for her roots which may be in Southsea or Poland.

Conor Reynolds

Conor Reynolds SQWould like to be a full-time magician and be accepted into the Magic Circle. He is kind but sceptical. He loves solving puzzles and believes there is a rational, logical answer for everything.

Andre Nikolaev

Andrei Nikoleav SQThoughtful cabbie Andy (Andrei) is overflowing with mysteries and conspiracies. Has spent his life trying to find out what happened to his mother, who vanished in the mid-80s while working for the Ukrainian nuclear programme.

Catherine Bastet

Cat Bastet SQMystic, tarot reading cat whisperer, a wannabe Ancient Goddess often to be seen talking to her cats. Her thoughts can often appear cryptic to those who don’t know here but those who do, say she is worth taking a moment to listen to.

Donitza Kravitch

Donitza Kravitch SQA traveller with a magic touch Donitza can often be seen busking around town, brightening up the city with her fiery Balkan music. Schooled in the ancient arts by her mother, her life was torn from her at an early age.


lissitch SQWannabe street artist, shapeshifter, old god, a trickster who enjoys a bit of mayhem from time to time. Has a message for the people of Portsmouth if they can only just decode his cryptic clues in time.

Southsea Model Village

Pictures of the models of Dontiza and Lissitch in Southsea Model Village.
Pictures of the models of Dontiza and Lissitch in Southsea Model Village.

We commissioned local artist James Waterfield to make models of Lissitch and Donitza for placement in Southsea Model Village The model village is a key backdrop for the Snow Witch novel used this as an opportunity for a press launch for the Cursed City – Dark Tide story experience. The models of Donitza and Lissitch (in is reimagined mode as a street artist) are now permanent fixtures of the model village and contribute to the growing collection of miniature street art in the village.

Snow Witch characters take their place in Southsea Model Village.

Street Art Campaign

#Lissitch2019 pasting up around Southsea.

An Instagram account, #Lissitch2019 was initiated in March 2019 and to begin with this just recorded examples of street art in order to develop a profile. In early August video clips were posted of a mysterious street artist in a fox mask pasting up artworks around the city of Portsmouth. The paste-up images contained clues and subtle messages that aimed to promote the story experience and were released at key points in the story experience.

#Lissitch 2019 street art for Cursed City - Dark Tide.
Lissitch 2019 street art for Cursed City – Dark Tide.

We then invited artist Roo Abrook to facilitate a street art workshop in partnership with Aspex Gallery and we spent a day with local people making street art. We also commissioned Roo to produce 4 images that would be important clues in an opening puzzle. The images were included in The Snow Witch Art Exhibition and in a Free Art Friday drop as part of the runway promotions for the project.

Making Magic: Street Art Workshop with Roo Abrook @ Aspex Gallery.

Immersive Theatre Production

We always intended there to be a mix of online encounters with virtual actors and real-world encounters with real actors. Early testing for the project concept revealed that our potential audience wanted to see our main character play the violin, a skill that she uses in the novel to great effect. This led to an early decision to include as the main finale for the story experience, a night of Balkan folk music at which Donitza would play. We made contact with Gundula Gruen and the Balkan Village Band and commissioned Gundula to work with as us as our Musical Director.

Musical Director Gundula Gruen with the Balkan Village Band
Musical Director Gundula Gruen with the Balkan Village Band.

We teamed up with Groundlings Theatre and invited director Joe Hufton to facilitate an acting workshop. The workshop explored acting for immersive theatre skills development and introduced both experienced and inexperienced participants to his novel concept. The actors who had already been recruited for roles in Cursed City – Dark Tide also took part in the workshop as a CPD activity.

Acting for Immersive Theatre with Joe Hufton @ Groundlings Theatre

After spending some time seeking out actors to participate in the project we cast local actors Brittany Hildreth, Scott Jowett and Christine Lawrence to play roles in the finale of the story experience. We also cast virtuoso musician Hana Maria to play Donitza and to take on a role as a member of the Balkan Village Band. Plus we cast dancer Natalie Watson to play the spirit of Jane Downey.

The Cursed City - Dark Tide cast
The Cursed City – Dark Tide cast.
Dancer Natalie Watson performs in a costume by Ellie Day.
Dancer Natalie Watson performs in a costume by Ellie Day.

The final part of the mix was to employ talented artist and designer Ellie Day to design costumes for the production.

Finally we booked Raka, a well-known Balkan folk band to play as headliners at the finale. This was in part to provide a headline act to draw in a crowd. But also, we didn’t want to reveal the content of the finale until the story experience had started to unfold.

Against The Tide Facebook Group

Against The Tide Facebook Group
Against The Tide Facebook Group.

As people joined the Facebook group there were welcomed on a daily basis by the admin who reminded players they would encounter fictional characters and that they could interact with them. •96 people joined the group and participated to one degree or another, with 5 people actively taking part, and approximately 30 people actively observing. The story characters would interact with players and off advice or misdirection when solving puzzles. They also played out their own narrative that saw Amie Pannet attacked and injured by the ghost.

Players were expected to follow and interact with the Facebook group as well as with the Instagram feed for #Lisstich2019. Additionally, NPC’s were able to hint at or drop clues through interaction with players in the Facebook group, though sometimes this took the form of misdirection. As the story progressed players were expected to solve a series of puzzles which would lead them eventually to the finale planned for the 9th November at Groundlings Theatre.

The Tarot Card Puzzle

Missing Tarot Cards Puzzle Clue
Missing Tarot Cards Puzzle Clue.

We commissioned a local artist, Jinx Prowse to design a puzzle that could be printed on the back of a set of four Tarot cards. The aim being that all four cards of the set had to be brought together in order to decode the puzzle. We then scattered the cards in golden envelopes around cafes in Portsmouth. To seek and find the cards the players must first solve the puzzle of the runes and link this with a new paste-up by Lissitch that was posted to Instagram the day after the exhibition opening.

Four Elements Puzzle Images
Four Elements Puzzle Images.

The runes in the four images spell: lissitchmagician.

URL code hidden in paste-up
URL code is hidden in paste-up.

The runes in the paste-up spell:

Lissitch Trip Advisor Profile
Lissitch Trip Advisor Profile.
Lissitch Trip Advisor Profile
Lissitch Trip Advisor Profile.

The full URL would take players to Lissitch’s Trip Advisor profile where they could read reviews of local cafes encouraging players to vist them and ask for a Golden Envelope.

The golden envelope and it's contents
The golden envelope and it’s contents.

In each envelope was one of the lost tarrot cards with part of a pattern imprinted on the back. Along with an invitation to attend a Darkfest event Knight of Wands King of Cups to meet other players and match their cards to try and unravel the puzzle.

Knight of Wands King of Cups event at The Kings Street Tavern
Knight of Wands King of Cups event at The Kings Street Tavern.

At the event, one of our characters, Ami Pannet, was in attendance and she assisted the players to solve the puzzle which revealed a phone number to call.

After solving further riddles the players were sent to Budd’s Herbal Apothecary to collect a spell kit.

Budd's Herbal Apothecary
Budd’s Herbal Apothecary.

The spell kit included the components needed to cast a spell along with the instructions.

The magic spell that needed to be cast
The magic spell that needed to be cast.

Upon casting the spell players were asked to post video and photos of them doing so on the Facebook group.

Players posting their spell casting
Players posting their spell casting.

The Seance

As the finale approached the writing team improvised one last incident in the story they had been playing out. The earlier death of one of the story characters, again this had been improvised at the time, provided an opportunity for a séance. This activity also served to promote the finale and to ensure all the players knew they needed to attend to experience the conclusion of the story. It also included a final task for the players.

Cursed City – Dark Tide: Seance Video Clip

Cursed City – Dark Tide Finale

The finale took place on Saturday 9th November at Groundlings Theatre. It featured a performance as headliners by Raka, a Balkan folk band. The event had been promoted as a straight forward folk dance so not all, but most of the audience knew they should expect something else. As audience members arrived they were greeted by costumed performers who gave them items that represented the four elements and they were told to hold onto these as they would be needed.

Cursed City – Dark Tide Finale – November 2019

The conclusion of the story brought to an end 28 days of live storytelling by the writing team. Though they had been working to a ‘bare bones’ script that had been previously worked out. In fact, as the story unfolded, they increasingly resorted to improvisation and worked collaboratively to develop alternative storylines and narrative arcs.

The team behind the Cursed City – Dark Tide was drawn from artists, writers and media creatives from Portsmouth and the surrounding areas.  The project was funded by Arts Council England and was delivered in the autumn of 2019 as part of Darkfest.

Check out the Facebook page for more information and updates on our story.