If (like certain members of my close family who shall remain anonymous) you find the rules of Monopoly and Cluedo a little too intellectually challenging, then it’s probably best to stay away from the British Museum on Thursday night.
Because if you do venture down, you may find yourself wrapped up in 815 Agency’s life-size staging of Ancient Egyptian boardgame Senet, which not only has no recognised rules, but is also an allegory for life, death and the afterlife. Oh, and the first person to the end will win eternal life, apparently.
815 founder Nicola Read says the consultancy was commissioned to create the game for the British Museum’s evening event centred around its Book of the Dead exhibition.
Read says, ‘Senet translates as “Game of passing”. It was played as a boardgame and it also took on a symbolic value. People would put Senet boards in tombs, so it was part of the world of the living that was taken through into death.’
815 has aimed to impose order on the game, at the same time as making it a quasi-theatrical experience. Read says, ‘There will be about five people per round, with the first person to the end winning eternal life. In traditional Senet you roll knucklebones to move – although we’ve created a dice with knucklebones on it.’
Upon landing on each square, the player will be set a question by 815’s Clementine Wade. ‘You’ll have a choice of an easy question or a hard question – it will be kind of a performance,’ says Read.
One progressing through the game, players will move from life to death to paradise. Squares on the game will represent rebirth, judgement and death. Read says, ‘With each roll you have you get to collect a prize to take to the tomb. We’ll also give people reeds to plant in paradise, so hopefully at the end will have a field of planted reeds. Then right at the end Clementine will weigh your soul (your shoe) against an ostrich feather.’
The ‘Senet redux’ event will take place in the King’s Gallery, while the Great Court will feature Ancient Egyptian storytelling, Shabti figure making, Egyptian classical and folk dance and other events.
The free Book of the Dead late event will be held at the British Museum from 18.30-21.00 on Thursday 17 February. The Book of the Dead exhibition runs until 6 March.