The origin of its name is still hotly debated by the volunteers before every show. I hear newcomers asking the more experienced stage hands about it in each room I walk through and everyone has a slightly different story to tell. But every single person describes their involvement in You Me Bum Bum Train with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye, every volunteer listening open-mouthed in wonder. I smile to myself as I take up my place for the next night of this interactive extravaganza.
For those that haven’t caught a whiff of the buzz surrounding this production for the last few months, You Me Bum Bum Train is a pretty unique kind of interactive theatre. ‘Passengers’ are individually taken through the equivalent of a fairground ride, forced into situations that above all should provoke a strong, visceral and unique reaction. Having worked as a volunteer in a number of scenes on this show, I have seen people laugh inappropriately, breakdown in tears, even go crazy and threaten the volunteers themselves. No reaction is out of bounds.
Of course all of this sounds fairly cloak and dagger, a voyage into the unknown. As a regular you would think that I could reveal more detail as to the inner workings of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. But like all volunteers, press and bloggers alike I signed a non-disclosure agreement and swore an oath on pain of death. There is a perfectly good reason behind the secrecy of course – creators Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd have purposefully designed it to be this way. The website to the show reads “For the show to have maximum effect, the less you know the better” and from my own experience I completely agree. The purpose of the show is to allow the passenger access to their most basic human instincts, unmarred by knowledge, preparation or preconception. As a volunteer, you are then privileged to witness their purest reactions.
I say volunteers and not actors/performers because the large cast of this show are not being paid. This has (inevitably) caused some controversy – only earlier today Equity claimed that the production has asked professional performers to work for free whilst still being awarded an Arts Council England grant for £150,000. But Bond and Morgan have been steadfast in their response – in order to pay everyone involved, they would have to charge £2,000 a ticket to break even. But as a volunteer, I can give as much or as little of my time as I want and not feel pressured to perform in every one of the 50+ shows.
So why did I do this in the first place? Well, honestly, I couldn’t get a ticket for the show – they sold out in an hour and were equally mired in controversy. But I couldn’t bear to miss out on this institution of alternative theatre. It comes round once in a blue moon and on previous occasions the shows have won the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust prize, an Evening Standard Theatre Award and been nominated for an Olivier Award. That’s some pedigree, folks. So I took the leap and threw myself into volunteering. I have played musical instruments, moved and fixed set and props and acted in half a dozen different scenes. All for free, all with incredible people from a variety of backgrounds, all with a huge smile on my face (unless the scene called for me to be a bit more sombre).
Will You Me Bum Bum Train be back? There are rumours going round that this is its final outing. There are also rumours going round that Prince Harry himself is attending the final night. That’s the beauty of the show, you’re not quite sure what to believe.