In March 2015 Against Captain’s Orders opened to the public. A groundbreaking collaboration between the National Maritime Museum and immersive theatre makers Punchdrunk Enrichment, Against Captain’s Orders invites younger museum visitors on an adventure that will challenge their understanding of history. Now in a series of blogs the Museum and Punchdrunk come together again to discuss how the exhibition developed from initial concept stage to the first visitors through the door. In this, the last post in the series, project writer Simon Davies hopes to find some fitting final words, but discovers instead a call to action. If you're new to the series we recommend you begin at the start here.
Last Wednesday I joined the crew of the HMS Adventure (as a member of the Salvage team in case you were wondering) and was led into the thrilling gloom of Against Captain’s Orders. It wasn’t my first time, it won’t be my last and if you haven’t yet I urge you to beg, borrow or… well actually just beg or borrow a 6 - 12 year old and go. You may feel that’s a little self serving, and perhaps it is. Certainly for the sake of transparency I should be clear that for the past two years I’ve been part of the disparate team of curators, designers, directors, producers, heads of learning, heads of enrichment, collection managers, carpenters, filmmakers, conservation experts and everyone in between all working to bring to life Against Captain’s Orders. In terms of scale it’s the biggest thing of its type that either the National Maritime Museum or Punchdrunk Enrichment have attempted and as a creative collaboration between two very different organisations it has been a steep learning curve. There have been challenges, there still are (a project like this doesn’t really finish), but the aim of creating something that gives the children ownership over maritime history and inspires them to explore it on their own terms has never been in question; an objective I’m proud to have had a part in achieving.
But with such a clear vested interest why listen to me? The answer to that isn’t in the beautiful design work that has created a whole other world hidden inside the museum. It isn’t in the incredible talents of the curators that lead the experience, individuals who are able to capture the imaginations of their audience and lead them (without leading them) on an adventure through history. It isn’t in the awe inspiring collections of the museum that offer doorways into other times and other worlds and it certainly isn’t in anything I wrote. The reason you should go is that lessons about looking at history afresh, taking ownership and questioning accepted facts, understanding that the past isn’t a fixed point, but an evolving story constantly written and rewritten by those of us in the present are lessons for us all. You should go because childlike excitement isn't just for kids, the promise of a darkened corridor or a creaking door hasn’t got less exciting and no matter how old we get one thing remains true - we all need an adventure from time to time.
As they say on the HMS Adventure, prepare to explore... The show closes on 31 August with special summer prices running throughout the month. To find more info and book tickets visit our website here.