LONDON — Tomorrow night the curtains will close on “You Me Bum Bum Train,” an immersive, personalized, interactive performance experience that takes the narcissistic selfie craze to new levels by asking audience members to actively take part in the promenade-style show that puts them at the center of the action. And sources say the phenomenon could be heading for a New York staging as early as next year.
Tickets for this wildly successful show were released in three sell-out batches. The show’s site crashed the first time around due to the huge demand, so subsequent releases were issued via a ballot style for 49.50 pounds, about $72 at current exchange, a bargain when one considers the meticulous attention to detail put into the production by creators Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd. Tickets on eBay were fetching upwards of $200.
CIA-levels of secrecy surround details of the show, which has been compared to Kafka’s “The Trial,” in which Josef K keeps turning up in situations that are unexpected but where everyone seems to expect him.
The whole event is referred to as a “ride”, and everyone involved, from the audience members (called “passengers”), to the hundreds of nightly volunteers required to stage the show are required to sign lengthy non-disclosure agreements before they can take part, so there’s not a lot that reviewers can reveal about the experience itself. And, naturally, Instagramming anything in the show is verboten.
When WWD approached the team about this story, it was told that press tickets had all been allocated so the best way to experience the show would be by becoming one of the 450 volunteers required to run the show each night (it has been performed on Thursday and Saturday nights during this season), with people signing up to help cast the show, peel vegetables for the catering, call and confirm other prospective volunteers, and take part as performers in various tableaux that make up the surreal event.
After reporting to an unmarked doorway in London’s Soho, at a disused building formerly occupied by Foyles book shop, passengers are ticked off a list by a burly security guard, instructed by receptionists to sign the NDA, weighed (don’t ask; can’t tell), and advised that if a scene becomes too intense, they should place their hands in a “T” shape and repeat “time out” three times. They are then given a “departure time” and shown to a waiting room to await their ride.
Passengers go through each of the dozens of scenes, which stretch from the surreal to the touchingly poignant, alone. Sometimes interacting with performers, and other times just witnessing the action — all without any warning of what’s coming next. The scenes have been devised to provide a snapshot from life that most people would never have the opportunity to experience. Imagine being asked to present a major ad campaign to a brand’s stakeholders or perform life-saving surgery, or give a keynote speech on metaphysics to a crowd of experts, or slide along a conveyor belt as a car part in a factory, or hide from assailants in a cold storage facility (caveat: these are imagined, not actual scenes from “You Me Bum Bum Train”).
Prince Harry and Cara Delevingne have been among the celebrities to take part as passengers, as well as Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, Dominic West, Stephen Fry and Jude Law.
Bond and Lloyd met at art school, where the former was studying illustration and the latter was studying film. A few years after graduation, they started putting on events in the basement of a Brighton office building. Since those humble beginnings, it has grown into something of a cult, with passengers describing it as life-changing. In 2010, it won The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award and was nominated for an Olivier Award.
While “You Me Bum Bum Train” declined to confirm whether the show would open in New York, sources say that they are in talks and might be looking to open in 2017, depending on whether a suitable venue could be found.