Review – Tunnel 228 – Punchdrunk at Waterloo


The fates shone upon my Saturday night, when my heartfelt plea for a ticket to 228 at last got a useful response from a person named “Karl,” who saw my post and didn’t want his ticket wasted. I sent him a series of increasingly excited emails, which culminated in the delivery of a PDF good for three people’s entry to the project the next day at 3:40. WOO HOO! And while it was certainly a lovely spring day outside, I in no way hesitated as I jumped on the Northern line and headed toward Waterloo. Art ahoy!

Apparently a lot of other people didn’t bother going (based on the holes in the guest log), though I’m not sure if it was the weather or the location. Tunnel 228 is located on the west and south side of Waterloo, down a side street called “Station Approach Road” that wraps all the way around the front of the station (possibly misleading the unwary – I’ve created a Google map that should set you straight were you to attempt to find it).

Now, the sad thing about giving away tickets to an event for free is that often people will just not bother to turn up (and people rarely have the strength of character of Karl, who I think is my karmic payback for giving away my Royal Opera House balcony seats to some poor folks in the standing side slips two weeks back). The question is, then, how can you get a ticket to go if you want to? My advice to the brash is just to go to the location and present yourself and ask “to take the place of any workers that may have failed to report for your shift.” This is in keeping with the whole idea of Tunnel 228, that people who are attending are going to work, and it just might prove charming enough to get you in the door. Daytime slots would probably work best as people would be more likely to flake out then. You might also ask people who are on their way in if they have any extra room on their tickets. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The next question is, of course – how was it?

Keep in mind, this is an art exhibit, not a theatrical presentation – in no way is it Masque of the Red Death or Faust. It’s presented in a very atmospheric environment, very beautifully lit tunnels that still feel kind of scary (and are most certainly dark). Inside, there is a steampunk thing going on – partially natural (the brick arches overhead, the broken bits), partially forced (the giant wooden wheel with the person walking in it to power other machinery, the train track with a small platform on it, the automated operating room). There are also several pure art pieces, and a few performance pieces (only two, I think, unless there was one hiding in an alcove I missed). The biggest thing actually went through several rooms – it started in the third hall (there are about four halls in total in the piece and one upstairs area), where a person pushed the platform down the track, counterbalanced on the other end by a person suspended from the ceiling, all part of a Rube Goldberg contraption in which the iron ball that was dropped swung out in a giant arm that went down a series of chutes, leading to a tiny train that took off down a dark puddle (in hall four), which finally circled up to shoulder level and knocked over all the books on a shelf edging the room with the track in it, somehow setting off the person in the wooden wheel, leading to a whole bunch of electric lights going off in the hall behind the wheel (creating rather a lovely fairy land) and illuminating a tacky statue of Christ sitting in an electric chair. It was really quite the spectacle (well, it was neat) but it seemed fairly devoid of any emotional content or wider context so it didn’t really hit the notes it might have.

In other places in the exhibit, I saw:
a room full of paper trees, with paper moths on the walls
a statue of a woman falling over in despair, at a table where she was watched by a crow
a coffin with baby birds (real ones, but very dead) crawling out of the corners
several tiny dioramas (a gas station, a Bingo hall, a grocery store)
a woman performing a sleazy dance for a fat cat businessman (this was live), visible only through a peep hole
an iron tank about six feet tall with two peepholes, one of which showed a woman surfacing from the water (in 3D!) and then disappearing, the lower showing her breathing bubbles into a man trapped underwater
several machines with tornadoes of water or vapor inside them, lit beautifully

I really enjoyed it, though I spent only an hour there – the sense of discovery was high, though the humor associated in my mind with Rube Goldberg meant I couldn’t take the Metropolis overtones seriously at all – it was more City Life than The Diamond Age. Overall, though, it didn’t have the oomph I got out of Punchdrunk’s larger events – but as an art exhibit, it was great and a million times more fun than any normal gallery show!

(Tunnel 228 continues through May 23rd, 2009. But all entry tickets are spoken for, so good luck getting in if you don’t have a ticket, though it may be remounted in the fall.)

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4 Responses to “Review – Tunnel 228 – Punchdrunk at Waterloo”

  1. Find me a ticket to Tunnel 228! « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] LATER: My tips on getting tickets, and my reviews, now online. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)More Sneaky Peeks and […]

  2. J Says:

    The work is all about rewarding a sense of curiousity, so I won’t give too much away, but you can get into the room with the fat man and the stripper if you ask nicely, and you’ll also be in for a treat if you knock on the right door upstairs…

    • kate Says:

      Oh, i am dying to hear what happened in the room upstairs…we waited far too long and didn’t end up getting in…

  3. TheTTCritic Says:

    I just trotted up today with a few friends and the lovely man on the door let us in without tickets. If you don’t have tickets it’s definitely a good idea to have a go, the stuff inside is well worth a look. Knocking on doors is a prudent strategy. A friend of mine met a man upstairs through the door and I was introduced to the fat man and the girl (although she wasn’t stripping when I went in, more a crazed loon). I’ll stick a review up soon.


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