Rum things happened to me on the 1st July, 2012. Sent out from Kasterborous Towers I found myself in Ipswich, Suffolk, attending Doctor Who production The Crash of the Elysium.
Outwardly, this looks a rather pedestrian exhibition, with not even the hint of a hushed whisper to its true identity. From a simple white tent that had been employed as a rather low brow pre-show waiting area, all that was on display were little posters and badges marking the crash of the Elysium, a sea vessel of historic interest dating back to 1888. I didn’t spot a single iconic piece of BBC labelling in that waiting area. I began to doubt whether this was anything to do with Doctor Who. Rum indeed.
Once inside, amongst some twenty other visitors, we were taken to a room of simple relics and artefacts brought back from the wreck of this aforementioned Victorian commercial steamer. We had an exhibition guide begin taking us through a video presentation that explored this particular tragic event I’d never heard of.
Before I could get comfortable – or more likely, bored – we were rudely accosted by what could only be described as two military chappies – by the nature of their military chappy-like barking of orders and running about in your proverbial and actual face. Apparently we were to go with them. Apparently there was an issue of national security. Apparently I was in the right place after all.
Apparently there was a Doctor to be saved. Now come with us. Run. Faster. Run faster. Lives are at stake!
The Crash of The Elysium is a production by theatre company Punchdrunk who have built up a reputation for expanding the realms of theatre into an immersive and eye-opening spectacles. It is a labyrinth of stage pieces, all seamlessly interconnected. You never step outside the world it thrusts you into With the creative forces of Doctor Who writer Tom MacRae sculpting the narrative terrain, Punchdrunk do what their name suggests: they deliver the punches.
This interactive theatre is an oddity to put into words. You are part of a compulsory enlisted team to explore a crash space wreckage. The show is a careful blend of experience, interaction and audience. You experience the drama first hand, with some very adept use of direction, acting and effects to create the tension you’d expect from Doctor Who. Interaction is key, especially early on, as the show asks the audience to hunt for clues as part of the exploration. And as the role of audience, you’ll find a familiar face pops up from time to time to help you on your way…
When the nature of the beast is spectacle, it can be the story that suffers, but MacRae delivers a solid piece that carries the audience and justifies it’s actions. On the Punchdrunk side, a particular round of applause most go to the frontline in the production – the actors, in particular, our military guides/heroes. Those who have been to Disney or Universal Studios showpieces will be familiar at how pivotal the actor-guide to an event’s success. The Crash of the Elysium’s crew drove the story on, controlled their “audience” and never felt distant, ensuring they interacted with as many faces as they could – but the actor’s role was just one cog in a bigger machine. As we were drawn into the confusion, the illusion was carefully played out around us. Smoke, light and, quite literally, mirrors. The actors craftily misdirected while the invisible show hands moved monsters into place. People laughed, people screamed, people had fun. With Murray Gold’s music blasting through the set-pieces at key points and the wonderful thrill of finding a certain blue police box at another, this was Doctor Who, even down to an appearance or two from – yes you’ve guessed it – the Doctor himself.
There are few crashes in life I ever want to be a part of, let alone privy to, however Crash of Elysium is one particular crash that’s worth experiencing. With a week left in Ipswich I’d heartily recommend any fan of Doctor Who – or interactive storytelling. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself in the Doctor’s world, this might be your best chance.
There are but a few days left to see this remarkable show at its current venue. Tickets are available online from Wolsey Theatre, priced between £10 and £25, depending on the performance, and you can find you more at the official website, or check out the Facebook and Twitter pages.