Review: The Lost Lending Library at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Wednesday 14th December 2022 at Bernie Grant Arts Centre


Reviewer: Emma Dorfman

It is difficult to imagine how young people must encounter the world of books, words, stories, and imagination when, today, most of these appear in pixelated, digital, two-dimensional forms. However, through The Lost Lending Library Punchdrunk Enrichment has revived what it means to create in all of its lovely, lively, three-dimensional forms.

As always, Punchdrunk’s use of scenography as a tool for immersion grabs an audience’s attention in a way that your favourite Netflix show can hardly rival. Its vivacious and talented cast as well, with all of its improvisational skill, bring the stories of The Lost Lending Library to life whilst also forging a meaningful and lasting connection to a community and its heritage.

The Lost Lending Library, as we later find out in this ambulatory, site-specific and immersive production, travels often. In this iteration, the library has landed in Tottenham at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre. The library’s focus on telling the stories of heroes and heroic adventures has, perhaps, inspired the setting, for the audience (comprised of equal parts children and adults) later discovers that Bernie Grant, one of England’s first Black MPs, was something of a hero himself. Through the site, Punchdrunk Enrichment aims not only to spark its audience’s imagination but also, to share something of its historical surroundings. 

After being told the story of Bernie Grant, the audience is taken to Pei Pei’s (Victoria Chen) office, where we are tasked with coming up with a heroic story. Here, Chen works improvisational magic to formulate a captivating, larger-than-life story whilst negotiating with the whimsical requests of the little ones in the office. Everyone contributes to this story, and therefore, we all have a stake in the creation of the performance. Suddenly, the show cannot proceed without the audience, and somehow, Punchdrunk Enrichment manages to garner the participation of even the most reluctant of audience members.

Finally, we are tasked with finding the secret portal to The Lost Lending Library. Pei Pei hasn’t managed to find it since it travelled to its newest location. And I will never forget the look of amazement on one of our young audience member’s faces– him shouting “The bookcase door! It’s the bookcase door! The door! The door!” And finally, we are pulled into the very carefully crafted Lost Lending Library (courtesy of Designer Casey Jay Andrews and Kate Rigby’s original design). It’s every bookworm’s paradise: books on every subject, notes and papers and knickknacks pasted on the walls and placed carefully upon shelves.

The library collects stories as it goes, and we, the audience, are a crucial ingredient to its survival. In the library, we meet Peabody (Bridgette Amofah), who shares more about the library and its magic. After hearing the story we have created together, the logs it into the permanent collection at The Lost Lending Library.

Here, I began to fully digest the true impact of this production. It’s not just promoting a particular community and its own historical figures, but it’s also imbuing that spirit into the next generation through the art of storytelling, words, and imagination. The Lost Lending Library has this effect whether you are 8 years old or 80 years young, and if this was Punchdrunk Enrichment’s goal, then it is certainly fulfilling the brief.

The Lost Lending Library is at Bernie Grant Arts Centre until December 21st 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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