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Nationl Maritime Museum, Park Row, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel 020 8858 4422 |


Until 31 August 2015


6–12 years


From 10am–5.10pm daily


50 minutes


£19.75 (20% discount for members)


Tube Cutty Sark
Rail Greenwich
Boat Greenwich Pier

A message in a bottle
Tension is mounting…
One of our artefacts is missing!
Curators Glan and Arthur looking tense
Adventure awaits…
Yinka Shonibare's Ship in a Bottle
View Nelson's famous naval jacket

Against Captain’s Orders

by Catherine O'Dolan

“Prepare to explore. You are the crew of HMS Adventure. Together we will set sail into the uncharted.” Aye, aye, Captain! It’s time to embark on an immersive, interactive, intriguing journey into the unknown…

There was an air of tension as we gathered at our assembly point. Our host, curator Arthur Ambrose, was tut-tutting that Glan Owens was late (all part of the act, I’m assuming, to set the dynamics between the pair: one the reliable, stick-to-the-rules guy, the other a bit more gung-ho let’s-wing-it-and-see-what-happens…). Luckily, Glan tipped up just in time, breathless and apologetic, and we were handed life jackets and joined our groups to become Navigators, Midshipmen, Ship’s Watch or Salvage.

At first, Joe, 10, was slightly disappointed to be a Midshipman (he thought the salvage folk were more likely to be retrieving the treasure) until Glan told him that Midshipmen were the heart and soul of the ship (omitting the fact they’re also the lackeys). Besides, there were a couple of lads Joe’s age and a bit of comeraderie always revives his spirits.

We tentatively took our seats in rickety wooden boats in the dimly lit atmospheric room and gazed around us, eying up the motley crew that we’d been thrown together with, wondering what larks lay in store…

First off was a rousing pep talk from Glan, inviting the audience to chip in with what hearty qualities we needed to be good sailors, until we came up with our battle cry: “Be brave, be adventurous, be loyal!”. Every time an order was delivered, we were to bellow “Aye, aye, captain!”

Each boat held a special museum artefact or historical memento – in our case, Sir Francis Drake’s drumsticks. And no, he wasn’t a secret rock ‘n’ roll sticksman, but the drumsticks have a fabulous folkloric tale to tell. Legend has it that the drum still beats whenever there is danger – a story which cast an eerie air as we sat in our little boats on an invisible ocean.

Other objets included Grace Darling’s telescope and a sextant, but it was the bottle with a message tantalisingly poking out that provoked the most interest. “Shall we just see what it says?” asked impish Glan. The audience needed little encouragement to egg her on. No sooner has Glan reached for it than alarms started ringing and all the objects vanished!

We knew we were all in big trouble if we couldn’t retrieve them… and so our mission began in earnest. With a mix of rising panic and practicality from Glan and Arthur (well acted by Lowri James and Richard Popple), we were led into the depths of the museum.

The darkened rooms were crammed with a pot-pourri of peculiar paraphernalia and an oddment of knick-knacks. The walls were strewn with warnings and witty remarks warning us to keep mobiles away from marauding parrots!

Some clues needed a bit more nudging from our guides than others (we might have still been there if we’d had to realise we needed to use coordinates to find the sextant) but Drake’s drum was swiftly spotted by one eagle-eyed lad. His reward was to clamber over the exhibits and retrieve the drumsticks himself. “Shall I bring the drum too?” he quipped. “Er, no, better leave that,” said Glan. Probably best since the drum was about the same size as him.

Towards the end of the 50-minute drama, the ante is upped. Arthur managed to get separated from the group (another theatrical ruse to add to the tension), and there seemed to have been an explosion in the room we first started in. There were flashing lights and an air-raid siren blaring like crazy as we run through the corridors to accomplish our mission…

As our adventure came to a close, the children were on a high, talking excitedly about which part they liked most – invariably the moments with the most peril! The performance is designed specifically with children aged 6-12 in mind,  though the dynamics may change slightly depending on the age mix in any particular group. To their credit, the actors are pretty adept at offering reassurance (and a torch) to anyone who needs it, as well as expertly curbing over-exuberance in others.

Did we enjoy our adventure? Aye, aye, captain!

Did you know? Drake’s Drum is a snare drum that Sir Francis Drake took with him when he circumnavigated the world. Shortly before he died in 1596, he ordered the drum to be taken to Buckland Abbey in Devon, and vowed that if England was ever in danger someone was to beat the drum and he would return to defend the country. According to legend, it can be heard to beat at times when England is at war or significant national events take place.

Fun Fact With the most charming of names, Grace Darling was the lighthouse keeper’s daughter who became famous for her role in rescuing the survivors of the Forfarshire shipwreck in 1838. Quite the celebrity in her time,  Grace received a personal letter of gratitude from Queen Victoria and a reward of £50.

Why go For the chance to play your part in a challenging and adventurous mission to retrieve missing treasures. 

Who is it best for Kids who like historical dramas like Night At the Museum and daring types looking for any opportunity to display their bravery and loyalty. Nosy folk will also enjoy the chance to routle around the rooms.

Our Favourite Bit Playing at being Indiana Jones or Doctor Who as we ran through the corridors – lights flashing, sirens blaring, hearts pounding – in a race against time.

Top Tip Build in sufficient time to see all the amazing artefacts in the museum itself. For hands-on interaction, under-7s will enjoy Ahoy!, the wonderful interactive zone where they can don seafaring costumes, take the ship’s wheel, climb the rigging – or serve up fish in the market.

Don’t Go If you’re expecting to meet any pirates – or lead a mutiny. It’s all rather well-mannered shenanigans, really.

While You’re Here The lush expanse of Greenwich Park that dates back to 1427 is on your doorstep. Stroll along picturesque avenues, visit the Queen’s orchard or catch a musical interlude at the country’s oldest iron bandstand. There’s also a great little playground in the north of the park with some surprise visitors: a life-size flock of wooden sheep, that is a novel re-purposing of props from the London 2012 Olympics where they appeared as part of a farm-themed equestrian jump!

About Punchdrunk Enrichment Since its formation in 2000, Punchdrunk has established an international reputation as a ground-breaking theatre company, creating epic worlds and immersive theatrical experiences that have won the company awards and a popular following – their most recent London production The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable has been seen by over 200,000 people. Since 2008, Punchdrunk’s Enrichment team has taken this immersive practice into communities, creating performances with and for children, young people and the wider community.  Punchdrunk Enrichment has enjoyed widespread success, working with over 40,000 young people and over 200 schools, creating ground-breaking educational projects which place pupils and teachers at the heart of the experience and provide a real catalyst for learning.


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