Many of you will have read my post about the Doctor Who Experience earlier this year, and people were incredibly supportive. So I really wanted to share when Doctor Who gets it right!
As part of Manchester International Festival, Punchdrunk, a company specialising in “immersive theatre experiences”, created an interactive Doctor Who promenade theatre experience, written by Tom MacRae, who wrote the recent (and fantastic) Doctor Who episode “The Girl Who Waited”. (Tom tweets as @tommacwriter). Entitled The Crash of the Elysium, this special event was only run for 18 days I believe, and I was lucky enough to be able to visit it in July. It was aimed squarely at children, and initally, was only available to those lucky enough to be able to present one aged 6-12 on admission, but due to demand, they put on some adult only performances.
To be frank, it didn’t start off well. There was only one day out of the period I could actually make (I have a hectic social calendar, don’tyaknow), so I was concerned about getting tickets for that day. The tickets were sold by SeeTickets (regular readers may know I’ve clashed with them before over access) and there was little accessibility information on the website.
As soon as they were on sale, I bought tickets for myself and my carer, to ensure I was able to go. I then phoned the number given for accessibility. See were their usual helpful selves: “You’ve bought tickets already?!! Well, I don’t think you’ll be able to get the discount then!”. I explained that I was most concerned about accessibility and assistance; “What do you mean, accessibility? What assistance do you want?!”. The show’s details were a closely guarded secret, so it was hard for me to say what help I might need, which was kind of the issue. They eventually sorted the carer discount, and regarding accessibility, I ended up saying “Forget it. Can you just let the production company know that someone who is registered blind is attending”.
I must admit, I was dismayed. I really wanted to enjoy this. I really wanted it to go well. I really didn’t want to have to write another blog being critical of Doctor Who. I love Doctor Who!
I needn’t have worried. Shortly before we set off to travel to Manchester, I got a phone call from someone at Punchdrunk, the Director, I think. She explained that she wanted to give me a bit more information about the show, and find out whether there was anything they could do to help me access it. She explained that it was very multisensory, and that, at times, there were smoke effects used, and uneven ground. We agreed it would be sensible for me to use my symbol cane, so other visitors were aware of my disability. She explained that at times during the show, visitors were made to run, but that they wouldn’t do this if I thought it might make me uncomfortable (Nah, I said, let’s go for it, let’s run). She asked if I wanted the performers to be made aware of my disability, and we agreed that was a good idea. She also said she’d come and find me when I was there.
I’m not going to give too many details away about Crash of the Elysium. Its run has finished now, but I hear whispers that it might relocate to London next year as part of the cultural Olympiad. If it does, go, go, go! You are browsing an exhibition about a crashed cruise liner, the Elysium, when armed personnel burst in, and from there, you are swept along into an adventure with the Doctor.
This is proper old school Who. There’s lots of running down corridors, crouching, energy. You move between various locations in the adventure. There is darkness, and uneven ground. At first, I held on tight to my carer and my cane, and stayed near the back of the group. There was stuff hanging down, that you collided with when running.
But, you’d been asked to enter the adventure with the mindset of a child, and fully participate in it. Some of the other adults obviously were finding this a little difficult, and were somewhat reticent to join in, not getting the urgency of the situation! I had no such problem (people who know me, you’re shocked, right?!). I threw myself right into the adventure, no problem with suspension of disbelief here.
After a while, I realised *everyone* was colliding with stuff. And I reasoned, hey, this was made for kids, I’m not going to collide with anything dangerous…. So, I made a decision, to basically abandon trying to use my remaining functional sight, and to rely on my other senses, and instinct. To just go for it, and pelt down the corridors, using my hands and my feet (after all, I rely more on these to navigate around than my sight), and if I fell down, hey, I make a prat of myself, no big deal.
And, then, something strange happened. As I stopped caring about colliding with stuff, I found I was generally at the front of the group, first to each new location. Out of breath, excited. And loving every second of it.
There was even one point where my unusual navigation skills due to my sight put me at a distinct advantage. I’m not going to say any more (“Spoilers Sweetie!” </RiverSong>)
The world created by Punchdrunk was amazing, truly beautifully realised: sounds, smells; every location felt real to me. I grinned the widest grin ever for the entire adventure. I may have been bouncing up and down with excitement at various points.
I can’t praise the performers highly enough. Not only were their performances wonderful, but they were great at including me. They never once broke character, but ensured I didn’t get separated from my carer, that they gave me tasks I could do, that I was fully involved. They ensured that they were always close enough to me when giving directions or signals. All without drawing attention to, or even mentioning, my disability.
All too soon, it was over, and we scrambled out of the exit. I was still grinning, bouncing, high as a kite! And, as promised, the woman I’d spoken to came to find me, with the Production Manager. They were very interested to know how I’d found it, whether I’d been able to access it, had I enjoyed it, how had I managed? I told them all about “abandoning my sight” and how much I’d loved it. They were really pleased, and said that they’d had problems finding people to test the show. They’d tested wheelchair accessibility by borrowing a chair and wheeling a staff member around in it. Naturally, I very quickly offered to test anything they worked on in the future, and suggested Pesky People might be a good way of getting together testers with a range of disabilities. Whether they’ll take me up on that, I don’t know.
The performances started every 10 minutes, which meant that there would be six groups of performers performing at once, at different stages and locations in the adventure. I was told they had one set of key performers who could sign, so anyone Deaf or hearing impaired could be placed in their group, if they were told in advance.
It took me hours to come down from my high from Crash of the Elysium. I was in Sainsbury in Manchester Picadilly, going “oh look, crisps, I love crisps. Oooh a fan, I need a fan… CAKE! Let’s get cake!” (but then, I do love a little shop… The Doctor would approve).
Crash of the Elysium is not the most accessible event I’ve ever attended, due to it’s very nature. It was dark, smoky, on uneven ground. But Punchdrunk proved that attitude is everything. I felt so included and welcome, I felt part of the adventure.
Crash of the Elysium made my Summer. If it does get another run, if you can, go!! And remember to RUN!!