The Lost Lending Library @ Church Hill Theatre

Punchdrunk Enrichment's interactive piece for children aged 6-8 is imaginative and educational

Review by Josephine Balfour-Oatts | 05 Sep 2023
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The Lost Lending Library might be recommended for 6-11 year olds, but its central themes are ageless. When Poppy (Hayley Muirhead), an apprentice guardian at the library, loses the door, the audience must work together to help her find it. To do this, they have to use their imaginations – they must create a story. The library is listening; it likes what it hears. It sends the group clues (a message in a bottle, a book that can’t be opened), and suddenly, the adventure is afoot. 

Produced by Punchdrunk Enrichment, The Lost Lending Library has an educational function, in that it foregrounds literacy skills and teaches the basic elements of story-writing (including, but not limited to: setting, protagonist, inciting incident, conflict, and resolution). Poppy elicits the necessary details from the group deftly – younger members of the audience are endlessly, effortlessly imaginative, and the difference between them and their accompanying adults is stark (at what point does one stop playing, stop investing in their own imagination, without first having reason or permission to do so?).

We enter the library through a hidden bookshelf – the door swings open with all the novelty of a long-awaited hardback. Here, Peabody (Delvene Pitt), Poppy’s colleague, and guardian of the miscellaneous department, sits surrounded by books of all sizes and subjects. On the shelves, there are souvenirs from the many locations that the library has travelled to over the years. The room shudders as, somewhere beyond, the library reorganises itself (it regularly performs what’s known as a ‘reshuffle’). 

Written and directed by Mia Jerome, the space is negotiated admirably, as the cast gestures to rooms that the audience cannot see (the library is said to have 314 floors and 78 spiral-side departments). There could be greater emphasis on exploration throughout – participants are currently hostage to the structure of the piece, with little opportunity to appreciate, and immerse themselves, in the library itself. The Lost Lending Library makes for a delightful hour, though, and is sure to inspire wonder, as it reflects on the power of the imagination as a tool for positive change.

The Lost Lending Library, Church Hill Theatre, run ended