Bat Night Market – LIFT 2024, Science Gallery, London

Reviewer: Dulce Godfrey

Creators: Kuang-Yi Ku and Robert Charles Johnson

If it takes time travelling to a future where bats do not exist to make you appreciate their importance, then so be it. Bat Night Market is an immersive gallery experience co-commissioned by LIFT 2024 and the Taipei Performing Arts Center that takes you on a culinary, sensory, and educational tour of a world which entertains and teaches the important role of bats and the many misconceptions about them.

Green wristband-adorned to signify the time slot, a group of prospective time travellers meet their guide Navi in the café/bar of the Science Gallery in London Bridge. The group is informed that it is to hurtle forward in time to a night market, where we will learn how post-covid pandemic misconceptions about bats and human greed have wiped out the numerous species, with devastating consequences.

Despite the slightly gloomy set-up, it’s an excited feeling that follows the group up the stairs and into ‘The Future’ to start the bat-based fun, which includes various snacks, drinks, games, ritual worship, and lots of bat facts.

The Science Gallery’s exhibition space pays homage to the traditional Taiwanese night market but with a futuristic twist with its heavy use of neon amongst twists of retro-futurism. With a moment to appreciate their new surroundings, the time travellers are escorted to Novo labs, a sinister and clinical setting in which facts about the various bat species that have become extinct, as well as the technology used to lab grow bat meat, are delivered by an enthusiastic scientist.

Whie we consume the information, we are also invited to consume the ‘lab-grown bat meat’ with optional toppings of ‘bat fur’, ‘bat belly’ or ‘bat heart’ (mostly consisting of strange-tasting jellies and candy floss). First of many snacks of the evening, these then lead to a series of games all revolving around learning bat facts and debunking common misconceptions.

A standout moment of the evening comes with a dinner invitation where we meet the commanding and delightfully unsettling Mia, host and waitress for the evening’s meal. Mia’s commanding voice and unnerving presence ensure we are following strict instructions and paying close attention to the information we are learning.

Mia serves up a cup of soup (with which we raise a toast to the lost bats and plants) and a delicious Bao bun provided by Bao London down the road in Borough Market on long tables with intricate projections of nature providing the main futuristic feel to the dining experience. Mia has a robot-style breakdown, and the group are informed the food they have been fed is turning them into a robot and they must play another bat fact game to get the tonic cure.

The final bat fact game leads us to the climax of the evening, the bat shrine, decorated with desiccated bats in Petri dishes that signify the species that have become extinct and a large bat skeleton as a sad reminder of the misunderstood animal. The immersive experience becomes auditory as the group is passed headphones playing the gentle sound of echolocation as we are guided by a ‘guru’ into worshipping at the shrine and learning about the hidden ecocide and consequences of the ever-increasing extinction of bats caused by actions of humans and misconceptions of the diverse creatures.

The overall feeling is slightly silly but entertaining. The main drawbacks of the immersive performance are the games that are slightly juvenile and the whole experience takes a touch too long to complete. Seeing those completing their journey around the market ahead of you slightly ruins some of the ambience and surprises, something a simple physical barrier would fix. The ending performance, although an important note to conclude on, fails to pack the emotional punch it might have intended competing within the playfulness of the rest of the production.

But the dedication of the performers leads to a willingness for attendees to get stuck in and go head-first into the bat-filled world. It makes for a wacky, sometimes silly but certainly enjoyable experience. Pound for pound it’s worth the food and the fun.

Runs until 15 June 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Wacky, silly, educational

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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