I first heard about YMBBT when I’d just arrived in London and had absolutely NO FRIENDS. So it was a perfect opportunity to be involved in theatre and meet some people who I might be able to turn into them (FRIENDS). What happened next stretched the edges of even my widest dreams.
The basic idea is that the audience travel through different rooms – full, 3D sets – one by one, so they’re the only audience in that scene at that time, although there could be up to 100 actors (whaaat? Yes, that’s right). They are thrown into a version of reality and are active participants in it, not just unseen observers. There are up to 20 rooms that make up their journey. The show came about when directors Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd felt disillusioned with the self indulgence of the theatre and art happening around them. Their idea was to create something that was entirely for the audience, that provided experiences they wouldn’t normally get to experience, and some they might be familiar with too. For example: my first night as an actor was in 2008, where for 6 Saturday nights in a row, I dolled myself up and stood in a fake queue to a fake nightclub I’d never get into. And I loved it.
The audience started in the nightclub, a glittery room where a gold suited DJ spun cheesy classics & the Margaritas were free. They left the club and walked down the metal stairs past us in the queue. Some drama students were keen to show how good at acting drunk they were, but Morgan quickly shut them down – one of the best things about YMBBT is how accurately they achieve a sense of reality – the acting is underplayed, understated, and the sets are intricately detailed, down to plug sockets in the walls, the smells, the outside sounds. The scenes are juxtaposed between quite normal, familiar experiences like the nightclub, to weirder ones like entering a boxing ring and being sparred with by a real boxer, or presenting a chat show and interviewing real celebrities (Stephen Fry, Jamie Oliver, Catherine Tate, Dominic West, Dexter Fletcher, Dermot O’Leary & Jonathan Ross all took part).
For the next full show in 2010 I became a Cast Manager and had charge of a scene, for which I had to recruit 50 volunteer actors to work for 5 hours a night, unpaid and in extreme conditions. Why did they agree to do it? It’s incredible to be part of something so wildly impossible. The look on that person’s face when they enter and you get to watch their mind being completely blown by what’s going on – there are temperature changes, playing with different levels, unexpected modes of transport… after the 2012 show, lots of audience asked how in the kebab shop scene they went from being on the 5th floor of a building to being suddenly outside? (They weren’t). When you go on the ride it moves to fast for your brain to process what’s just happened, so it feels a bit like you’ve just taken some really exciting mind altering substances. A bit like Quantum Leaping into different bodies in quick succession. And with no guide.
How? The show relies on the support of thousands of volunteers – cast and crew are all giving their time and expertise for no money, but not without return… The directors have tried to make it as valuable to volunteers as possible by providing training of skills like plumbing, carpentry, and offering experience in production roles, for example. When I did it, I was given an amazing amount of responsibility and… POWER. 5 years later, and it’s still the best job I’ve ever had. It felt amazing to be a vital part of something so crazy, ambitious, ridiculous and actually life changing. Although as a performer in the show you’re in one scene, repeating it up to 80 times a night, the unique reactions of each audience member keep it entertaining. The one thing that links the scenes is an outrageous sense of humour. You can tell Bond & Lloyd enjoy messing with the minds of their customers. Almost as much as they like posing in their underwear.
Tickets always sell out in a couple of hours, which makes sense (they worked out just to break even the actual cost of a ticket should be £1600) but is kind of unprecedented for a theatre show. So, there are no tickets left for this year’s show, BUT, you can still be involved by volunteering. This could be acting in scenes, leading a scene, helping with building, decorating, stage managing, recruiting… Anything you fancy. And you can do as many or as few shows as you choose. You don’t need any experience, talent, connections, bla bla bla. They even feed you if you come in for a full day.
For my part, I’d really recommend it. I got to feel really integral to something cutting edge that wasn’t wanky, meet some amazing people who’ve been vital connections in the work I do now, excel at being a BOSS and have a lot of fun at the same time.
Plus I did actually manage to make some friends.
If you want to be a volunteer, you can sign up to their swanky new database here: Volunteer!
Or, check out the website at You Me Bum Bum Train
Shows start in September and continue til early November