Lab Rats

Are you smarter than a rodent? This is the question at the heart of ‘Lab Rats’, an immersive theatrical experience originally created for audiences at Shangri La, the anarchic after-hours corner of Glastonbury Festival.

Designed in collaboration with Ridley Buchanan Architects, the maze-shaped installation turned the tables on our audience by casting them as experimental subjects for rat scientists – Lister, Zucker, Wistar and Lewis.

Once inside, the audience are categorised according to their sex, “variety”, and level of intoxication, before being put through a battery of sensory tests devised by fantastic neuroscientist Ed Bracey.

Image: Simon Westgate
Image: Simon Westgate
Image: Simon Westgate
Image: Simon Westgate

Our experimental subjects were then challenged to navigate the radial arm maze – a giant version of the eight-pointed stars used in animal research laboratories – before being brought back into the experimental chamber to have their performance graded and the final verdict delivered: smarter or dumber than a rat.

The underlying concept was simple: we wanted to turn the tables on the audience to comic and surreal effect, creating a Kafke-esque, alternate reality in which the rats are the experimenters, and the audience the test subjects. In doing so we hoped to encourage our audience to explore their relationship with animals and feelings about the use of animals in research, and gain an appreciation of how rats and other animal models have contributed to scientific understanding.

In 2016 we brought the Lab Rats back, but this time to New Scientist Live, where they put Londoners through a raft of sensory challenges.

Image: Simon Westgate
Image: Simon Westgate
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