“You will need a map, a sense of adventure and the most important ingredient, an incurable curiosity”
Though the big name Punchdrunk show at the moment is The Crash of the Elysium, thrilling children both young and old as part of the Manchester International Festival, there is another show which has snuck into London rather under the radar, The Uncommercial Traveller. A real community-based production, a collaboration between the Punchdrunk enrichment programme and the Arcola’s 50+ Theatre group, it was inspired by Dickens’ work of the same name, a collection of literary sketches and reminiscences of his night-time wanderings, delving into the hidden side of Victorian London.
At just £6 and a 30 minute running time, expectations had been accordingly adjusted, so it actually came of something of a pleasant surprise to find out there was more to the experience after the tickets had been booked. An atmospheric audio journey is provided for you, starting from Hackney Town Hall, which takes 50 minutes to wind through the history-filled streets of East London before ending up at a final location which sends you right into the heart of this Dickensian world where an individual adventure awaits.
So much of the fun in Punchdrunk shows is linked to the element of surprise, and though the show has now finished, I am loathe to spill too many of the details. Suffice to say, the story I bore witness to was beautifully done and really quite touching, all the more so for its extreme intimacy. And the entire immersive world that has been created is really quite special: a cup of warming soup was gratefully received after the cold and soggy walk (London in July eh…) as we were ushered into a soup kitchen before being taken on our own odysseys down dark and dank candle-lit passages.
For the price, it was excellently done and a most subtly enjoyable experience. There’s a slight sense of frustration at the sense that there is so much more to the whole piece that you don’t get to explore or experience – chatting to others afterwards about their experiences was highly illuminating – but then it is probably best to leave your audience wanting more, and this restraint works a darn sight better than the uncontrolled sprawling mess that was The Duchess of Malfi.