Thank goodness that there wasn’t a tentacle in sight when I took a friend to see Petersham Road’s new interactive theatre production, The Realm of Shunga. If you’re hoping for something on the scale of Secret Cinema’s annual filmic extravaganzas or Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable that covered six floors of an old postal building in Paddington then I’m afraid you’re fresh out of luck. By comparison to venues that Secret Cinema and Punchdrunk go for, the Hoxton Docks is positively minuscule. But I’ve always said that the smaller ones are juicier.
Do go to the local pub, The Acorn on Queensbridge Road, beforehand. Partly because of the pub cat who is charming, but also because it’s £5 for a glass of sake inside the Realm of Shunga. There’s also some nosh on offer, which I’m ashamed to say my guest and I didn’t sample as we had filled up on Vietnamese round the corner.
You will inevitably end up spending a fiver on sake because despite its size, there’s a hellava lot to do. There are two stages, two bars, a laundromat, a peep show, a dance floor in a “motel” and countless different characters to interact with and admire. To make sure you don’t miss any of this excellence, there are Shunga Tours that you can attach yourself to. I had hoped for some form of narrative but instead the evening feels more like a themed club night at (the now closed) Shunt than an interactive theatre experience. Hey ho.
Early on in the tour our guide took us through the peep show, replete with tissue boxes nailed underneath the windows. My guest and I stayed watching the girls in a slightly awkward way, me not wanting to seem like a prude and he for possibly different reasons. We ended up being the last in the tour to still be standing there as the group moved on. Eventually the guide shouted “Stay there any longer and ya’ll stick to the floor!” lots of tittering from the rest of the group. We had been singled out as the pervs.
In one of the bars there’s a stage at the back. The guide asked me if I was into “Shibari“. What? Japanese fabric dying? For a moment I envisioned a W.I. instructor showing us how to make a beautiful table-cloth on the cheap. No, no, that’s shibori. Shibari or, kinbaku if you’re caught out by vowels as I so often am, is a Japanese erotic art form which involves tying girls up in rope. Well yes, actually, that sounds like just my sort of thing. The guide pointed up to a ring suspended from the ceiling above the stage and told us to come back later.
We saw another bar and a dance floor in a “motel” room that included a bed with teddy bears. It was still pretty early for Dalston so there wasn’t a soul on the floor which gave me enough room to discover my partner’s two left feet and my complete inability to show someone how to do even the most basic of spins. We returned to the shibari stage.
Shibari, if you haven’t seen it before, is about as erotic as ballet. Whether you find ballet erotic or not (I happen not to) it is as great pleasure to watch. I felt like putting my hand up and asking if I could have a go. It just looks so comfortable. I imagine it would feel a lot like zero-gravity yoga. But that’s the art of live performance – it is the duty of an artist to make it look easy and beautiful.
What a bunch of artists these guys are.
Buy tickets for Petersham Road’s The Realm of Shunga here
Address – Hoxton Docks – 55 Laburnum Street, London, E2 8BD
The run is from 21st — 23rd April and then from 28th — 30th April