London Review: Immersive Cult Hit ‘You Me Bum Bum Train’

With:
Cast list is kept secret.

You might call “You Me Bum Bum Train” the ride of a lifetime — only that would be underselling it. It’s the ride of several lifetimes at once. Morgan Lloyd and Kate Bond’s immersive cult-hit throws you into situations your own life never could — and it does so at such pace that you start to forget yourself. The show remains one of the most exhilarating, discombobulating, potentially even life-changing theatrical experiences going, and the latest incarnation is the best yet.

For around 45 minutes or so, you’re plunged into the middle of a major identity crisis. The Bum Bum Train is a rapid-fire succession of scenarios, each of which plonks you into the protagonist’s shoes. Participants — journalists in particular — are sworn to secrecy, but you might pop up at the lectern in the House of Commons one moment and the next find yourself waiting in line at a late-night soup kitchen.

With each door you open or each cupboard you crawl through, you step, completely unwittingly, into an entirely new encounter. Strangers greet you by name and hurl you straight into the action, always entirely convinced of your expertise. It’s on you to react. Imagine a network of back-to-back parallel universes. Imagine the Tardis short-circuiting.

Lloyd and Bond (pictured above) came up with the format as students: a kind of art-house fairground ride. They sat participants in wheelchairs and whizzed them through a maze of makeshift scenarios packed with volunteer actors. Back then, it was low-budget. You might come face-to-face with a cardboard bull or climb through an ice tunnel made out of duvets. Speed was the key. So was the shot of rum at the start.

Ten years on, the ambition, invention and accomplishment has grown beyond belief. They take over entire office blocks, knock through walls and sign up hundreds of volunteers. That’s proved controversial in the past, both as unpaid actors and as an undeclared audience, but Lloyd and Bond have ironed out those issues. It has become a huge cult hit, and tickets for this latest run sold out within an hour.

What makes this “Bum Bum Train” the best to date? It’s real – more so than ever. Lloyd and Bond have dared to engage with the world at large. In the past, it’s used fantasies and film cliches. Here, they force you out of your depth and never merely indulge us. Previous rounds have let us catch breath and play out fantasies. Not this time. The stress of scenarios, the speed of the route and the adrenaline of the physical ride keeps you reacting impulsively, only just in control. It’s like running faster than you can quite manage, almost always off-balance. You’ll surprise yourself — in good ways and bad — and this ride of a lifetime will make you reflect on your own.

London Review: Immersive Cult Hit 'You Me Bum Bum Train'

A secret location in London; £45.99 ($70) top. Opened, Sept. 22, 2015; reviewed Nov. 6. Running time: 45 MIN.

Production: An immersive You Me Bum Bum Train production.

Creative: Created by Morgan Lloyd and Kate Bond.

Cast: Cast list is kept secret.

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