Following texted directions to the secret location “somewhere on the Victoria Line”, you make your way to a disused warehouse on the outskirts of town. Welcomed by a woman dressed as a 1930s aviator, speaking an imaginary language that hovers somewhere between Japanese and Klingon, you’re handed a beer – never a bad thing in a theatre – and led into the dining room.
This turns out to be a vast octagonal space, hosting a dozen round 8-seater tables, mounted on a raised and undulating wooden platform. Each table is enclosed within its own wooden interpretation of a wicker basket, from which ropes snake up to the huge hot air balloons tethered overhead; LED flames flicker convincingly in oil lamps, cushions soften the wooden seating, and the effect is one of wonder and expectation.
The theme of the evening is, not surprisingly, hot air ballooning, as you’re taken on a magical journey to five different countries. Around the walls is projected a 360 degree, seamless animation that lasts the entire length of your visit, showing both the country you’re currently in and your journey to and from it. With illustrations by Fred Campbell and animation by Jude and Jolyon Greenaway, it’s a splendidly wrought piece of artwork, with all the expectant magic of a children’s book brought to life; you feel entirely immersed in the projected locations.
In each country you’re served one of the five courses that make up your gastronomic experience, with a course that’s relevant to the cuisine of that country. (Journalistic restrictions, aimed at preserving the mystery, mean that I’m not allowed to reveal either the countries or the food.) The service itself is an act of theatre: one of the eight actor/dancers, dressed in the same aviator’s uniform, delivers and explains the nature of each course through elaborate theatrical mime, punctuated by the same made-up language.
The food is innovative, entertaining, plentiful and good – and they cater for vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, and any specific allergies you may have. Each table includes a complimentary and generous selection of wine and beer, although you can choose to stump up for a custom selection of wines, beers or cocktails paired with each course for an extra fee.
Between and even during the courses, which are spread out over a full three hours, the cast perform elaborate mimes and dances evocative of the country you’re currently visiting. Audience participation is on the cards: expect to dance, to leap over (electronic) flames, perhaps to help tug a giant fish out of the sea. The air of magical mystery is sustained throughout the evening, with the talented, energetic and enthusiastic cast donning multiple costumes as they whisk you from country to country. You won’t experience anything quite like this anywhere else: a truly extraordinary evening of theatrical magic.
Tickets – priced between £55 and £75 – are sold out until April, but tickets for May and June will go on sale on March 4.
Set Design: Darling & Edge
Booking until: September 2019
Booking Link: https://www.thegrandexpedition.co.uk