Tunnel 228

Old Vic Tunnels, 13 – 23 May 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

If you’re reading this, chances are you missed your opportunity to experience Tunnel 228, and you want me to tell you what it was like. But having spent an hour under Waterloo Station experiencing it for myself, I find I’m reluctant to spill the beans.

While I decide whether or not I’m in a giving mood, here are the publicly available facts. Tunnel 228 is a free but limited capacity art-exhibition-cum-theatrical-installation, the result of a collaboration between Punchdrunk, the Old and Young Vic theatres and a selection of contemporary artists. Booking had been open, but kept hush-hush, for four days when The London Paper gave the game away, prompting the remaining slots to book up in a matter of hours.

While I disagree with Matt Trueman’s suggestion that the freesheet’s article invited undeserving participants to the event, for three reasons – a) it smacks uncomfortably of elitism and arbitrary judgments of ‘worthiness’ to experience art; b) the article was an innocuous one on page six that would most likely only have appealed to Punchdrunk fans anyway; and c) his notional ‘deserving’ fans had a four-day headstart – he does make one vital point. Tunnel 228 isn’t meant to be found (i.e. stumbled upon at random); you’re meant to find it (i.e. actively seek it out).

The booking site, disguised behind a tacky frontpage advertising a rail cleaning service, is difficult to find unless you know you’re looking for something (if not exactly what that something will turn out to be). The entrance to the venue is nearly impossible to locate unless you’ve found the website.

Even once you’re inside, there’s no guidance to be had from the stewards: they’re mute unless they’re telling you what you aren’t allowed to do. The onus is on you; on your self-motivated voyage of discovery. Will you attempt to figure out the origin and purpose of the Rube Goldberg machine? Hunt down the man immortalised in mural form on various walls? Seek out all Slinkachu’s miniature dioramas? Or just make it your mission to explore every corner – even the ones you’re not sure you’re allowed in?

That’s all I’m giving you in the way of hints. You’ll thank me if, as Old Vic Artistic Director Kevin hopes, the tunnel reopens in the autumn, and you can experience the thrill of discovery unspoiled.

Participants include Punchdrunk, Old Vic, Young Vic, ATMA, Lightning & Kinglyface, Kate MccGwire, Luke Montgomery, Polly Morgan, Petroc Sesti, Slinkachu, Vhils, Hugo Wilson, Xenz and Busk

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