Cart Macabre, Old Vic Tunnels, London

Hold on to your stomachs – the ghost train gets a surreal makeover

It is not unknown for actors to corpse – but for the entire audience to cark it?

Hell's Half Acre, a recent installation in these same Old Vic Tunnels, a dark, damp cavern beneath Waterloo Station, focused on Dante's Divine Comedy. Now the performance collective Living Structure brings that Hell fully to life in Cart Macabre, fulfilling a desire for radical-art interactions that companies such as Punchdrunk have been implanting in our consciousness for the past 10 years or more.

In a sterile waiting-room, with body tags placed around our necks, we are asked to give up our earthly belongings before being laid out on trolleys and wheeled into pitch blackness. With the "macabre" of the title in mind, the sound of waves crashing, combined with the disorienting dark, conjures an impression of the Styx, while the hands that guide us to one of eight four-seater carts are surely those of Charon.

It is here that the fun really begins, as the carts are pushed around the cavernous space, which is rendered all the more atmospheric by the trundling of mainline trains overhead. A fairground-ride element is introduced as the cart is rocked as though balanced on a seesaw, but far more effective are the stations where, variously, videos, animations, acts of puppetry, haunting melodies and live theatre play out through slits in the darkness that open suddenly and shockingly before your eyes (and occasionally behind your head).

When left in the dark, one naturally builds a storyline from what one can see. And so, a puppet moth being drawn to a flame is surely symbolic of the evanescence of life. And when a filmed heart (a real one, presumably not human) is ripped apart by disembodied hands, then restored to its former shape, it suggests the broken lives of those left behind, which are gently repaired through time.

And there is time enough to construct that elaborate narrative. While there are scares enough in this nightmarish ride through the afterlife, there are also distractingly long intervals between acts. What's more, there seems to be an awful lot of clanking and dropping of iron pipes in purgatory.

Still, death is meant to be for eternity, and as an exercise in immersive theatre, Cart Macabre delivers. While not quite heart-stopping – though the dancers in tribal masks who prod and poke at the audience serve their uncomplicated purpose of eliciting a few screams – one would need an iron constitution not to leave the experience more than a little shaken.

To 22 Dec (0844 871 7628, £14)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices