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REVIEW: The Garden of Curious A-Muse-ments at New Place

There’s lots to admire about the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s new three-day, after-dark attraction, The Garden of Curious A-Muse-ments, unfortunately it also hits quite a few bum notes.

In the gardens of New Place five art installations have been put in place, each takes on the theme of a particular element: earth, wind, fire, and water. These stations are manned by actors in boiler suits who kind of usher you around. The idea is that you start at the first station – a glowing, rumbling sandpit – where you feel around in the sand for a marble. You then take this marble and visit the other interactive stations where it interacts with the elements – as it is dunked in water, sent on a conveyor through flames and blasted with air.

The whole thing has been put together by sound and light artists UNBOSI (United Nations Board of Significant Inspiration). The premise is that Shakespeare was inspired by the elements – his muses if you will – and as each station glorifies one of the elements and your marble acts as a ‘muse catcher’ soaking up inspiration as it visits each ‘muse station’, you too will feel the same creative force as the Bard.

There’s a surreal circus theme to the bizarre goings-on, and the installations have a Heath Robinsonesque appeal: they are cobbled together from bicycle chains, buckets, old gumball machines and even vegetables used to transmit electric currents. As the boiler suit people bob around enticing you to believe in the restorative powers of a puff of wind, flames leap from strange contraptions, while the night air is punctuated by intermittent parps of an air horn, you might well think you have come to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

It may be that younger children, more in tune with make-believe, will find something special and magical in The Garden of Curious A-Muse-ments. However this cynical adult found it all a bit too forced and pretentious. I’d have been happier with fairy lights and a glass of mulled wine to be honest.

The Garden of Curious A-Muse-ments runs from 15th to 17th December at Shakespeare's New Place, from 4.30pm to 8.15pm (last entry). Tickets cost £8 adults, £5 children, £20 families. Book tickets at www.musecatcher.org

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