Director and Writer: Tom Bowtell
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
“A world of pure imagination” exists in the basement of a former carpet factory near London Bridge. Gene Wilder may be most associated with this famous phrase but even Willy Wonka would be astounded at the semi-immersive experience created by a group of children from Tower Hamlets over the course of a year. Created especially for adults, The Droves is a bizarre and entertaining 45-minute wander through the child hive-mind.
Once used as slaves to create amazing carpets, the children of the factory revolted against their cruel but diabetic adult master, substituting his sugar-free cake for the sugared kind. Once removed, the children continued to live in the building becoming odd and desperate in the darkness. But now they need fresh DNA for the next batch of children, so they’ve invited a group of adults into their world, and they must make their way through a series of challenges in the dark forest.
With very little information and the knowledge that anything can happen, a small group of adults is permitted into this promenade show every 15 minutes. It begins in a carboard fort with two bossy young checkpoint monitors who ask a series of random questions before deciding whether the whole group is allowed to pass into the main show area.
The young performers certainly enjoy their roles as they exert their power over the uncertain and slightly blindsided adults suddenly asked to remember the worst thing they’ve ever done, and work in groups to find out who is the smartest or kindest person in the fort. Frequently cut-off by the sergeant-major-like guard who relishes his ability to tell grown-ups they’re boring or liars, this slightly overlong section is nonetheless amusing and embarrassing for the thrown-together group of strangers.
Eventually permitted to pass, there is a creepy design aesthetic created by Kirsty Harris that mixes a forest of Christmas trees, a carpet-child, a gorilla suit and a lot of red thread. The dark basement of the factory is the location for the remainder of the show that mixes Crystal Maze-type exploits where the group must work together to figure out the puzzle before moving into the next section, and sci-fi elements that “harvest” genetic material from participants in order to create more children.
One of the best and most effectively-staged sections is the sad tale of one of the Drove children trapped in a carpet and unable to be either entirely rug or entirely human. Brilliantly performed by its young inhabitant, she creates the right tone of sadness while hoping the group will set her free.
The show does end rather abruptly and while it’s enjoyable, there’s no overall purpose other than showcasing the imaginative talents of a group of young children, which are extensive. These junior performers have a fantastic time, clearly despairing at the inability of the adults to unpick their riddles and games more quickly. The Droves is a revealing insight into the minds of 6-11-year-olds and a chance for us all to remember that when it comes to imagination, children are way ahead of us all.
Runs until: 25 February 2018 | Image: Contributed