Dan Frost gives his verdict on one of the hottest shows in town – and yes, that includes the Opening Ceremony
Shows by You Me Bum Bum Train are notoriously difficult to review, because absolutely no one – critics included – is allowed to reveal details about what happens. That might sound a bit annoying. But, in truth, after going through it, you really don’t want to.
YMBBT is an experimental theatre company that sends individual audience members off on their own through a maze of frequently intense real-world scenarios. They are ushered through a series of rooms that have been meticulously-designed as different settings – all familiar but likely uncharted by the solo travellers themselves. And in each one, a fleet of actors is waiting to thrust their new guest into the leading part of their miniature role-play.
Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but also as exhilarating as a bungee jump. And, much like the sensation of plummeting towards the ground, it’s an experience that you will likely remember for the rest of your life (not much theatre can claim that).
So why the secrecy? For the simple reason that the joy of the experience – the very kick-to-the-crotch intensity that will stay with you into your twilight years – hinges on the element of surprise.
If you know what’s coming, it will dramatically water-down the heady cocktail of terror and excitement that churns your stomach every time you’re asked to play the pivotal role in a totally unfamiliar scenario.
And so, while you might leave wanting to scream about the show’s brilliance from the rooftops, you will also likely be so awe-struck that you wouldn’t even dream of ruining the experience for others – hence why the YMBBT code of silence is kept with near-religious devotion.
From a theatrical point of view, it’s a triumph of both choreography and design: each unfolding scenario is not just convincing but instantly absorbing; there are several immaculately-realised transitional moments; and passage through the entire piece is the kind of slick operation that Olympic organisers probably dream of.
And then there’s the scale; it’s formidable to say the least. There must be about 100 people working on the show every evening, all for a combined audience number of little more than 20 – so no wonder that everyone involved is a volunteer.
As you might have guessed, such a unique show with such limited audience capacity sold out eons ago (organized in partnership with Barbican, it’s the fastest-selling show in the entire history of the institution). But you can join the YMBBT mailing list so you don’t miss it next time. Or, you can volunteer to help put on this current show – what looks like a genuinely fun experience in its own right.
But please, if you do, don’t tell anyone what happens.
You Me Bum Bum Train, Empire House, Stratford, August 15-19, bumbumtrain.co.uk