Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Against Captain's Orders - National Maritime Museum


IF you’ve ever fancied yourself as an explorer, detective or sailor, an interactive show at the National Maritime Museum gives you a chance to be all three.
Against Captain’s Orders is a show which is about as immersive as they come, blending performance, storytelling, adventure and intrigue and is designed for all the family but especially those aged between six and 12.
It has been conceived and put together by theatre company Punchdrunk who have plenty of experience in staging innovative and immersive theatre and this shows off their not inconsiderable talents to the full.
I took my two kids, aged six and 10 to the show and we weren’t disappointed.
On arrival our 30-strong audience was split up into four nautical groups and asked to don the corresponding life-jackets - Midshipmen, Salvage, Ship’s Watch or Navigation.
Although we were never separated from the other groups and went through the 50-minute adventure together, it did allow us to do certain tasks according to our group.
We were met by curator Arthur and Glan (played on our visit by Matthew Odell and Sammy Kissin) who were to take us on our adventure.
It starts off in a pretty ordinary way. We were escorted through a dark door and in our groups were invited to sit in small wooden boats. Each had a mast and within each mast is one of the National Maritime Museum’s treasured exhibits and artefacts – in ours was a pair of drumsticks – each pertinent to the story that was about to unfold. The other boats had a glass bottle with a letter inside, a telescope or sextant.
As Glan and Arthur begin their story and encourage us to find out more about our objects Glan decides – against Museum orders – to take the bottle out of the mast. It is then that the fun begins for as she tries, the objects vanish and the museum appears to go into lockdown with sirens, tanoy announcements and a mist that starts swirling ominously.
As the sound effects begin to get louder we are herded out of the boats and through a door that takes us to the Dispatches Room where our adventure really begins.
This is the first of many rooms we get taken too and explore and it is amazing.
It is strewn with artefacts, objects, maps, papers, and Bertha, an enormous machine in the centre with lots of buttons to press, flashing lights and noises.
We are charged with finding the telescope in amongst all the other objects but we are given clues to do so.
Once found it goes into Bertha and we are taken to the next room. And so it goes on until all four objects are safely returned to the museum’s stores.
It is fascinating not least because of the impressive sets – something at which Punchdrunk excels. The attention to detail is incredible with each room stuffed to the gunnels with props a plenty. We were also taken down a rabbit warren of endless corridors and through the multitude of rooms including one full of maps and globes with a giant compass which we had to use to find the artefact, past the swashbuckling parrot room, evident from the coloured feathers spilling out from underneath the door, and even one which seemed to be made up entirely of sails hanging from the ceiling which we had to navigate our way through - with no real idea of where we were going.
It was dark at times, some rooms smelled, there were loud noises, crashes and bangs, ghostly drumming, it was disorientating and disconcerting and for some of the younger members of the audience, my six year old included, sometimes a bit frightening.
Indeed towards the end when we had but 90 seconds to get out before the museum locked us in, was tense for all of us! Would we get out alive? My six year old had his doubts.
But it was undeniably exciting and a huge amount of fun. Not only that we really felt as though we were on an important mission and thanks to the interactive nature of it we all felt included – indeed even the adults got a bit competitive wanting to be the one to find the rooms’ hidden treasures!
It was brilliantly put together, had a lovely story to it and was a proper adventure that not only entertained but allowed us to use our imaginations and our brains to look for clues so we could find the objects and get out in one piece.
As we had been commanded to be right at the beginning by Glan, we were brave, we were loyal and we were true - and we’d do it all again in a trice!

Against Captain’s Orders is on at the National Maritime Museum, off King William Walk, Greenwich until August 31. Tickets cost £19.75. Visit www.rmg.co.uk/ for full listings.

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