Step back in time and enter the world’s first Victorian Testing and Experimenting Works on London’s Bankside for an evocative and surreal new site-responsive performance. Expect to be tested to your limits during Illuminate Productions’ ‘Facts not Opinions’: Stretched to the Limit.
This spring, Kirkaldy’s Testing Works – an historic, Grade II former workshop and museum in the heart of Bankside – will open its doors for several exclusive, fun but slightly surreal pop-up performances on 30 and 31 March and 1 April 2023.
Sneak inside one of London’s most unusual locations, after-hours, for a thrilling site-responsive experience
Set in the world’s first independent, commercial materials testing works, audiences will join in with a surprise extravaganza that’s been 200 years in the planning. Come and mingle with eccentric Victorian characters and test your mettle in an entertaining hour-long immersive drama.
What you will experience:
Celebrated Victorian engineer David Kirkaldy is having a surprise party – and you’re invited, but only if you come up to scratch! This immersive experience offers guests the opportunity to secretly join the celebrations. Once inside The Testing and Experimenting Works, challenge your strength and wiles against Kirkaldy’s scrutiny and the mighty million-pound Universal Testing machine… A proper Victorian knees-up lies in wait for those who pass the test.
Guests will weave their way through rooms in this unique and atmospheric former 19th century factory including Kirkaldy’s office, the factory workshop and the basement, all filled with music, soundscapes and the Scottish engineer’s original testing machines, including the 14.5m-long Universal Testing Machine he had designed, commissioned and patented in 1863.
‘Facts not Opinions’: Stretched to the Limit has been created by theatre makers and performers Sammy Kissin and Al Barclay, as part of Blackfriars Stories commissioned by Southwark Council.
The show is inspired by the link between Blackfriars Bridge and Kirkaldy’s Testing Works and was originally conceived to mark the 200th anniversary of David Kirkaldy’s birth.
Kissin, who studied at LAMDA and Manchester University, said: “We really wanted to honour Kirkaldy’s world view that ‘Facts not Opinions’ matter. It is a celebration of the dynamism of the man, that idea of strength and how strength can be tested.”
Guildhall alumni Barclay added:
“We have all been tested to destruction recently. We were interested in confronting this in a place designed to break the indestructible – and question, who are we?”
The present Blackfriars Bridge is the second bridge to bear that name; the first being deemed unsafe due to poor construction. The new bridge, built in 1869, employed the newly established Testing and Experimenting Works on Southwark Street to test its wrought iron framework and ensure its long-term viability.
A free educational programme for more than 100 local secondary school pupils will run alongside the performances. Renowned illustrator, set designer and creative director Emma Rios will be delivering a series of arts and engineering workshops for children, plus guided tours of the museum. Visitors will be taken back in time to the industrial revolution when building specimens from all over the world were tested to destruction in Kirkaldy’s workshop.
About Kirkaldy’s Testing and Experimenting Works
A museum has been running at the site since 1984 run entirely by a team of volunteers. It is one of the few places in the world where you can get up close and hands on with working, historic machines – and yes, break something.
Kirkaldy opened the world’s first purpose-built independent testing site at 99 Southwark Street, London in 1874. He pioneered a real change in thinking – that all components had to be tested to a pre-existing standard, and facts were more important than opinions. The famous inscription above the door reads ‘Facts not Opinions’. Today Kirkaldy’s advances in science and engineering are celebrated by the Institution for Civil Engineers and the Engineering Hall of Fame.
Sammy Kissin writes, performs, and produces. She is also co-artist director of shadow theatre company Shadowboxer Theatre and has recently made work for The Little Angel Theatre and The Battersea Arts Centre. Sammy studied at LAMDA and Manchester University and has created shows for Old Vic New Voices, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Royal Opera House, VAULT Festival, Merge Festival and The Old Red Lion. Her work includes short stories, radio, and shadow puppetry, as well as immersive and site-specific productions for Punchdrunk Enrichment.
Al Barclay is an actor, writer, and theatre maker. Leaving Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2002, he immediately began combining a film career with the joy of immersive theatre. While filming in Bright Young Things directed by Stephen Fry, he was building strange wonders with Rabbit (now Coney) at BAC. Recent credits include The Crown and Slow Horses, as well as his work with Shakespeare with which he has extensively toured Europe and America. In the last month has filmed for Disney and ZDF Germany.
Blackfriars Stories is a local events programme coordinated by Southwark Council. Developed and run in conjunction with local community groups, businesses, developers and public sector organisations in the neighbourhood, Blackfriars Stories began in 2014. Since then, it has encompassed a diverse range of events from street parades and carnivals through to immersive theatre and public art. Paused during the pandemic, Blackfriars Stories made its return with a new production, Ghosts on a Wire, in 2022.
Illuminate Productions is a London-based non-profit art organisation, commissioning and producing contemporary art in unusual yet accessible environments, with direct public interaction. They bring together emerging and established artists, organisations and individuals in experimental partnerships to make site-specific work in challenging contexts. Over the past 15 years they have commissioned, curated and produced more than 250 exhibitions and events. They strive to develop and build on past arts and well-being projects in the future, through interactive artworks.
‘Facts not Opinions’: Stretched to the Limit runs at Kirkaldy’s Testing Works, 99 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0JF on 30 and 31 March (7pm, 8.30pm) and 1 April 2023 (3pm, 7pm and 8.30pm). The running time is one hour. Tickets: £15 general admission and £5 for Southwark residents (all proceeds will go to the volunteer-led museum at Kirkaldy’s Testing Works). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!