Lost Lending Library Magazine – Immersive Family Show Defends the Magic of Books | To organise
OOn my way to The Lost Lending Library, a new immersive family theater show, I describe Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man to my eight year old daughter, Hilda, in an effort to explain the “immersive” part. One floor of a huge building was covered in sand, I say, and at one point I had to wash a stranger with an old rag. “Uh! She grimaces.
This show by Punchdrunk Enrichment, the charitable arm of the company specializing in educational and community work, is all in all more serene. A dozen children gather in an oval room in Coventry’s newly refurbished Drapers’ Hall, opposite the fantastic Herbert Art Gallery, who lent a few props to inspire our ideas.
With its pair of curved doors and a gong in front of the fireplace, this is the first of three character rooms used in a show that combines the building’s history with whimsical flights. It’s site specific but could perhaps be a bit more city specific; although featured for the British City of Coventry Cultural Year, it lacks a strong local flavor.
Alice Devlin plays Petra, our guide, who opens up and conspires with the kids as they quickly get into the mood. What is a cloth room, she asks. “A school of dragons,” comes a quick response. Petra fills our heads with real testimonies about the building’s past as a court, fabric sales site and its role as an air raid shelter, all facets that will be explored later.
The plan is to sneak from this room into a secret library, and Petra asks Hilda to poke her head through the door and check that the coast is clear. We take two books with us: a dented copy of The Witches by Roald Dahl (I’m still not sure why) and a dusty locked tome that helps kids access a world behind a bookcase.
Next comes what you might call the Punchdrunk effect. We enter a treasure trove for book lovers, a room filled with typewriters and cards, seats constructed from stacks of hardback books, and walls lined with an AZ of authors including local hero George Eliot. . We sit under Maya Angelou and meet our new host, Librarian Peabody (played by Barry Fitzgerald). Like Devlin, he has a mischievous demeanor and skillfully handles some left-wing questions from these curious kids.
The show is designed for ages 6 to 11 but I admit I lose the plot when Peabody tells us a story (so many distractions!). Still, Hilda is thrilled. We are sent to gather around a majestic table to find new stories to fill Peabody’s empty shelf. There is a knack for handling these kinds of group collaborations and Devlin carefully involves everyone to come up with a story about a magic wand stolen by a queen (Hilda is called upon to provide her name: Wanda).
This session, like the Oval Room Prologue, is freeform but ends with a bit of confusion about what happens next rather than clearly signaling The End. An object-oriented show feels like it needs us to create something tangible to get back to Peabody’s shelf. When it turns out that we are writing a story at home and sharing it online with a hashtag, it’s a bummer; the 50 minutes are up and we would probably all stay with the show longer. But the children grab hold of the membership cards given to them: “Can I use it in a real library?” Asks one – and stroll in the light of day, ready to turn the city into their own story.