Imported to Shanghai from London, “immersive dining experience” ‘The Grand Expedition’ seems like it would be a perfect fit for this city: it’s a dialogue-free theatrical spectacle anchored around a five-course fine dining menu on The Bund.
Give us nostalgia. Give us whimsy. Give us a state-of-the-art, 360-degree wrap around projection screen. Give us a theatre show where we don’t have to think. Give us playful contemporary fusion cuisine sourced from around the world right here on The Bund and the price tag to match.
Opening to positive reviews two and a half years ago in London, the British production company behind the show is Gingerline, who have for the past 10 years become famous in that city for throwing these here-today-gone-tomorrow, hip and trendy, theatre-meets-supper club events. They sound like fun. The location of the show is kept secret. Guests are directed to a secret converted warehouse space by a personal text message the night of the show.
(The Shanghai one, they just tell you where it’s gonna be. It’s in the Fosun Foundation building. Surprise!)
The performance itself is billed in the press release as “part dance spectacle, part multimedia simulation, part supper club” and described as a “floating, feeding, falling dream”. From the reviews, it seems like they’ve built up an audience who knows how to get into it. With the performers bringing out the guests to join in for dancing and games, the event as a whole seems like it would be like a tipsy and gregarious costumed office party piss-up. But for young and bougey people.
And that’s the thing.
It’s in England so there is plenty of booze. I’m looking at photos of the one in London and I’m seeing booze everywhere. The Shanghai one needs more booze. They need to apply waaaaaay more booze to the Shanghai one. Waaaaaaay more alcohol is needed for this thing to work for me. If you’ve got a dancer coming up to the table, miming at me like one of the minions from ‘Despicable Me’, trying to get me to salsa dance, I’m going to need like, 10 to 12 cocktails for that to work for me.
Shanghai production, we’re lacking in authentic British atmosphere here. If you want me to salsa.
Okay, let’s take a step back and try to describe this thing: It’s a theatre show but there is no narrative story line. Audience members are seated in hot-air balloon baskets attached to 1930s-style hot air balloons. The mise-en-scene is a steampunk, Jules Verne 'Around the World in 80 Days' sort of feel. They give you Peaky Blinders hats and goggles to wear. An animated movie show is projected on the 360-degree screens, with dancers coming out and performing modern dance and mime routines to compliment it, intermittently inviting audience members to join in on the fun and games.
Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?
Actually, that part was alright. The cast is lovely and committed and charismatic enough to pull it off. I’m basically sober and you want me to join in on an awkward conga line? No, I won’t be doing that but I’m not mad at you about it because you’ve got good, positive energy. The visual element is also pretty neat. There was actually a sense of travel and momentum in the animation, as the balloons lifted off to soar around the world.
The supper club element though. Is mediocre. Gah. Like aggressively mediocre. Especially at this price tag. Especially in this neighborhood.
Throughout the evening, audiences try five courses of delicacies inspired by the different countries where the projections take the hot air balloons. None of it was inspiring. Or interesting. Or clever. Or… warm. If I had to tease out a joining culinary aesthetic it would be the pervasive sense that they’re trying to keep production costs low. Like the drinks pairing to the Japanese course was a bottle of Asahi, the show’s sponsor. The production as a whole trades in a sense of surprise about what’s coming next and what the next course is going to be, so this will be a spoiler-free review. We’re not going to go into detail about this food, thank god, suffice to say that it really disappoints.
Expect an uneven journey at the 'The Grand Expedition': part dance spectacle (which kinda wins you over), part multimedia simulation (which is sorta neat), part supper club (which has travelled really poorly).
'The Grand Exhibition' is on until August 22 at Fosun Foundation. Lunch and dinner tickets available here.