If you keep your eyes peeled during the festive season amongst the touristy hustle and bustle of London’s Covent Garden, you may just spot some familiar faces from Panto Land. For their latest production, Once Upon A Christmas, the highly acclaimed immersive theatre company Look Left Look Right has transformed Covent Garden’s plaza into its very own theatrical playground. Arriving at a secret meeting point, knowing very little about this alternative Yuletide experience (other than the fact that the adventure will take place in pairs) conjures emotions ranging from excitement to intrigue. Briefed that it would be our duty to save Christmas, we were sent on our merry way. Weaving through the nooks and crannies of Covent Garden, never knowing where or when a character would spring up from, is utterly exhilarating. Each character provided us with our next task or instruction, and the choices we made shaped the story. In this pantomime with a twist, the audience participation goes far beyond merely shouting “he’s behind you!”
Although the title of this piece may sound like a children’s story, I must stress that the magic can only be experienced by those that are over the age of eighteen. Characters such as Dandini and Buttons may look familiar, but these cheeky gossip-mongers are more adult incarnations of these pantomime staples. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Katie Lyons’s script is extremely witty and littered with many a panto-related pun, but what impressed me most about this stellar cast was their ability to go off script and ad-lib. For a piece that relies so heavily on audience interaction, the cast’s fast-paced improvisation skills are second to none. This in turn heightens the sense that you are having a unique, tailor-made experience and that your interaction with the characters would differ from the next audience member’s rendezvous with them.
I have visited Covent Garden countless times before; however, thanks to the local authorities giving Look Left Look Right complete free rein of the area, I was surprised to discover many doors and passageways that I never knew existed. It’s remarkable really that a piece of theatre can reinvent such a familiar space. Personally, I have never experienced a site-specific production in such a public place; the idea that I was immersed in such a surreal world whilst the vast majority of the public were going about their day-to-day business made my adventure all the more magical. The team behind Once Upon A Christmas should also be applauded for their slick delivery and precision: pairs begin their journeys at seven minute intervals and never once did I cross paths or even see any of the other participants.
The denouement of the piece is spectacular and left me feeling festive, but as you leave the space you are asked to vow to keep your journey a secret, as Look Left Look Right want each audience member to experience their show with no expectations. So hopefully I have managed to walk the thin tightrope between enticing you to experience Once Upon A Christmas first-hand, and keeping to my end of the secrecy oath.
Once Upon A Christmas is being performed until the 15 December and the secret starting location is revealed upon booking. For tickets and more information please visit the London Transport Museum website.