Beyond The Road: A Very Trippy Experience, Featuring Joanna Lumley And An Altar

Beyond the Road, Saatchi Gallery ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 60 months ago

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Last Updated 17 June 2019

Beyond The Road: A Very Trippy Experience, Featuring Joanna Lumley And An Altar Beyond the Road, Saatchi Gallery 3

I enter a room billowing with coloured mist, a tree suspended in mid-air behind a curtain. Before I can say 'I have no idea what the f**k is going on', I'm watching Joanna Lumley roaming a sterile corridor in period costume.

This truly bizarre immersive experience is the work of two of the people behind interactive theatre company Punchdrunk, plus musician James Lavelle (UNKLE). It's taken over the top floor of Saatchi Gallery, and nothing quite prepares you for the heady trip it provides.

Walking into another room, I come face to face with a scaly androgynous head on a plinth. Just as I'm realising quite how creepy it is, it starts moving and I jump back, before regaining my composure and getting a closer look at the strange animatronic creation. It's early in the experience and by the end, I'll come to realise this is far from the weirdest thing I'm going to see today.

The whole experience is filled with coloured lights, a meditative soundtrack and strange objects including a flickering TV, and a phone booth where visitors can pick up the receiver and listen to a louder version of the soundtrack. It's at this point I start to question what the point of this whole experience is — am I supposed to feel unsettled, or relaxed? Perhaps the best approach is to just enjoy the madness of it all.

When it all gets too much, I take advantage of the beds and have a lie down, watching pulsating lights on the ceiling while bathed in red light. Is this meant to be some sort of afterlife experience?

There are some really impressive set pieces, including an altar for kneeling and 'worshipping' a swirling abstract cloud that's reflected in a pool of water inside a wooden church. It's very intense and could even evoke a spiritual experience in some.

A lot of this experience is way too abstract to make sense. For example, a brightly-coloured screen switches to scenes from the award-winning film Roma. Sure, it's a beautifully shot film, but has little to do with anything else that's happening in here.

In fairness to the creators they aren't asking visitors to feel anything specific, so maybe the fact that nothing makes sense is the point. That headless horseman seems to be doing OK, aside from the fact he's missing a head. Maybe I should take a seat at the wax -covered table, sip on a non-existent drink and get with the programme.

Even after exiting the experience into bright daylight, I'm still not sure what I was just exposed to, though I shan't be forgetting it any time soon.

Beyond the Road: Journeys in Sound and Space is on at Saatchi Gallery until 24 July 2019. Tickets are £20 and should be booked in advance.