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The Lost Lending Library at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre

With Christmas looming, you might be forgiven for thinking that the only family shows available are pantomime. After all, it’s the pioneer of (mildly) interactive theatre, and has its own place in our (very British) hearts. It’s a delight for me, then, to learn that Punchdrunk Enrichment’s Lost Lending Library has touched down in Tottenham, for an alternative, fully immersive treat from the experts.

Punchdrunk Enrichments 'The Lost Lending Library'. Image by Paul Cochrane
Punchdrunk Enrichments ‘The Lost Lending Library’. Image by Paul Cochrane.

Unaware as I am about this gargantuan, peripatetic library, I’m glad that Parnell, a library guardian, is here to clue us in. The library, you see, is a bit magical, and moves from place to place, but he’s stuck, locked out, and needs our help. That’s where we come in (with an emphasis on the younger members of the assembled families, ages six to eleven recommended). It’s up to us to create the skeleton of a story, which is fleshed out by the guardian with a sprinkling of improvisational wizardry.

I’m skeptical about how far we’ll get with a tale of a local pioneering football-obsessed Black MP (sorry, David Lammy, you were much-mentioned but not the hero of this story!), and his escapades when working in the local Dominos. But what emerges turns out to be (or at least, becomes) a credible plot.

After winning entry to the Lost Lending Library itself is when Punchdrunk’s design flair comes into its own. I’d challenge any dragged-along parents not to giggle with delight at what awaits us inside, but – spoilers – not going to give anything away about that.

Suffice it to say, anyone who has experienced the company’s richly detailed worlds will recognise, in this small corner of North London, an intricately realised parallel existence. I am transported – more than once – to a place where fairytales are real, and words have the power to create.

This isn’t The Burnt City (and if the older generation haven’t crossed London to check out this huge Punchdrunk extravaganza then book tickets right now) but for a fun family-friendly experience (and timed accordingly at a brisk 50 minutes) this is a delight.

It’s a local (and slowly touring) production, and not one I’d necessarily rush across town for. But for those in the parish with little ones, this show is small but perfectly formed.

4 stars

Review by Ben Ross

The Lost Lending Library, Punchdrunk Enrichment’s immersive family experience set in a magical travelling library, has a limited run at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London from 13 – 23 December.

A feast for young imaginations and a celebration of books and the journeys they take us on, The Lost Lending Library is suitable for schools and family audiences with children aged 6-11 years of age. The family production unlocks a world of creative storytelling encouraging children to develop a love of reading that will last a lifetime.

At 314 floors high and with 78 spiral side departments, The Lost Lending Library houses the largest collection of books in the world, and visitors are invited to explore one of its many departments. Books of all sizes and colours are crammed together on its shelves, stories bursting into life from their covers. Look carefully and you might see a tree growing out of a book, and paper birds taking flight from the pages.

Punchdrunk Enrichment and Bernie Grant Arts Centre host

Writers: Alice Devlin and Peter Higgin
Executive Director: Peter Higgin
Director: Alice Devlin
Design: Kate Rigby
Sound Design: Stephen Dobbie
Graphic Design: Stephen Dobbie and Casey Jay Andrews
Lighting: Nick Slater
13 – 23 December 2022
at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Town Hall Approach Road, London, N15 4RX

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