Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Drowned Man (Punchdrunk) – A final farewell

In little over a week, I will walk out of Temple Studios for the final time.  Those words fill me with dread, but it is true.  I fully expect to be a weepy, mascara-streaked wreck, along with countless other Punchdrunk addicts with whom I will share that last, precious show.  Several have become friends through a facebook group, resulting in many evenings of standing in a queue together (sometimes pre-show drinks in a pub) before wandering alone for 3 hours through the gloomy world of Temple Studios and then re-convening in the bar for excitable post-show analysis.  People I never knew a year ago who are the sole source of my addiction – habit-enablers, every last one of them.

I never expected this to happen.  Seriously.  (I would’ve budgeted for it for a start).

A year ago, when I booked my first ticket I was some semblance of a normal, rational person.  The people who had seen Les Mis 7 times?  Weird.  Just weird.  Why not go and see something else?  I’d seen a few London shows twice and even seeing The 39 Steps 3 times seemed borderline ridiculous (it is good though – if you haven’t seen it, you should go. /tangent).  My typical budget for theatre is around the £30 mark and I will move heaven and earth to find a good seat for the cheapest price I can get.  I winced at spending £45+ for that first ticket, thinking to myself “this had better be worth it…”

My first visit was utterly overwhelming.  It took me about 3 days to get my head around everything I’d seen (and not seen).  Various friends went and we tried to compare scenes – only they’d been on an entirely different journey to me, so it was hopeless.  Other friends were deeply suspicious and remain so to this day (I like to think they just fear what it’ll do to their bank balance if they go just once).  I even persuaded my hairdresser to go – she never even knew anything like this existed, but she loved it.  If you are prepared to give it a chance, I actually think Punchdrunk are remarkably accessible compared to many other shows which are a bit ‘out there’.

But it took 4 months for me to go back.  I thought a second (perhaps third) time would be enough to see all of it.  I must’ve seen most of it, surely?  No.  After that second visit, I had sand in my shoes, (stage) blood in my hair and a head full of questions.  I started to buy tickets in 2s and 3s, wondering if that would ever be enough to see all of it.  A series of Q&A sessions only served to reinforce my admiration for the show, the design, the meticulous detail (right down to the smell of TCP in the doctor’s office), the choreography, the sheer logistical nightmare of running scenes simultaneously, requiring performers to walk into opposite ends of a room at precisely the same moment and start a scene with the absolute surety that the other person will be there exactly on cue, the constant self-referencing which neatly ties one aspect to another.  One of the directors had estimated that to watch every single scene in some sort of order would take around 12-15 hours.  Their cast are trained in multiple roles so there are something like 86 possible permutations.  It is mind boggling in every single way.

Yet they make it look so easy.

It very definitely isn’t.  I’ve seen a few immersive/promenade/contemporary things in the last year, some more successful than others.  Part of the problem is that Punchdrunk have set the benchmark so high in every respect that it’s hard to draw comparison.  I have found myself in other productions getting annoyed that a tangle of cables hasn’t been boxed in, that ‘fine dining’ has been served on paper plates with plastic cutlery, that there are bottlenecks when moving audience from one location to another, that there is a short wait for it to be my (or my group’s) turn to see a scene.  But this is what you let yourself in for with experimental theatre – the ideas are often great and each respective company has clearly expended their every last resource and ounce of creativity to make it work to the best of their ability – if I wanted something safe and predictable, I’d go and sit in a numbered seat in an auditorium.

So it is with the impending 17th visit to The Drowned Man that I look back on everything I’ve experienced.  Theatre going won’t be the same ever again.  Whilst I will be incredibly sad once it’s all over, I find solace in knowing that they have many ideas, if they can just find the right building.  It has also taught me many things; I will be directing a play at my own theatre for February 2015 and this has given me the confidence to be brave with my set design and lighting – to not be afraid of the careful use of silence.

So I would like to say thank you to Punchdrunk, to their performers for their boundless stamina and the exquisite tenderness of those 1:1 encounters which, for a fleeting few minutes at least, were for me and me alone.  To their backstage crew/front of house team who tirelessly keep the nuts and bolts of the show ticking over with such finesse – I will forever remember Summer 2013 to Summer 2014 as the year when one theatre production suddenly and unexpectedly consumed my every waking moment (and some very lucid dreams too).  I wish I’d accepted sooner that I’d be going as many times as I did – I might’ve stood a chance of following characters one at a time in a more methodical fashion rather than running around trying to see everything.

Time to start saving up for the next one…

 

Before this starts getting too morose, one of the things that came out of the facebook group was an immense amount of fan art – there are some incredibly talented designers in our midst.  I, however cannot draw very well.  Especially not freehand on a computer, given that I am naturally left handed and use a mouse with my right hand.

None of these things prevented me from expressing myself by the medium of MS Paint.

I apologise for the following pictures.  They are unsuitable for those who wish to treasure their memories intact and for those with a weak bladder.  If you should wish to open the Pandora’s Box of my scenic interpretations, you will find them here.

Felix and Maxine – I am so sorry.  Facebook made me do it.

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Macbeth – RIFT

Having thrown myself into this immersive theatre lark recently and as quite a fan of Shakespeare, the idea of an overnight Macbeth in a ‘secret London location’ was irresistible.  It was a little ambiguous as to whether the actors would be performing throughout the night with the whole play stretched over 12 hours or it was just going to be a late finish, but given that a ticket included sleeping arrangements (Hard – bring your own sleeping bag, Soft – you get a campbed, Deluxe – you get a bed), there was only one way to find out.

In anticipation that some of you have bought tickets and are waiting for your performance date, here are some important tips for you:

  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be wandering about a lot.
  • Take a few warm layers with you – while the whole thing takes place inside the building in the height of summer, when the windows or balcony doors are open (or you are out on the balcony), it gets a bit nippy once it’s got dark.
  • Get there before your start time – there’s a few things to do before it actually starts (i.e. fill in a medical form).
  • Have something to eat before you go – there is a small vegan meal included, but it’s served quite late in the evening and you’ll need sustenance for all that wandering about.
  • Hard and Soft have changes to the sleeping arrangements (a bit of an upgrade!) – check your email.

Here endeth the tips.  The below contains spoilers.

On arrival at Balfron Tower, I went through the security check point of Borduria where I handed over my phone, filled in a medical form and almost had time to exchange money for Bordurian currency (was running late due to getting very lost at Stratford International trying to find the right DLR platform).  We were then escorted by Uri, Borduria’s finest security guard to enter the Rift between fact and fiction and step from daylight into a very dark underground car park….

Where I was promptly terrified by a witch.  I don’t know where she came from, but she appeared next to me very suddenly, before my eyes had had a chance to adjust to the dark.  I carried on walking ahead, following the rest of the people in my group, only to look round to my side and find the witch still walking alongside me as the other two appeared out of the gloom.  We gathered around an oil drum with a fire lit in the top for the opening scene.  Macbeth appeared along with a few accomplices, their military styling perfectly at home in the brutalist architecture.  As we walked along, we were treated to one of Macbeth’s cocky, self-assured soliloquies with knowing looks.  A strong start.

We were shepherded round to the entrance where our guide, Ivana was waiting.  We were ushered into a lift where there began a lot of deadpan instructions (pure comedy) as we rose up to the higher floors.  I’ve often wondered if immersive theatre could ever tackle comedy and it seems that it can, I just wasn’t sure if Macbeth was necessarily the right vehicle for it.  We were then taken up to a bar where we could buy drinks with Bordurian currency (luckily soft drinks were free).

As the evening progressed, we were ushered into various rooms, sometimes with other groups, so that we were taken to scenes, or scenes were brought to us.  We soon worked out that the flat we were taken to on repeated occasions was the flat we’d be staying in for the night.  While the scenes were good, there were often long gaps in between – I can only presume the actors had to do the same scene a few times over in various flats before the show could move on to the next bit.  These gaps were often covered with TV reports of ‘Birnam wood is on the move’ from man on the scene, Uri (We love Uri!  He should have his own show) or something from our guide, but usually some sort of comedy which frequently had us helpless with laughter.

But then suddenly we’d be jolted back to drama as Macbeth would storm into the room for an argument with his wife as they try to cover their tracks or an uneasy stand-off with Macduff.  Then they’d be out again and we’d either sit and wait or be ushered off to another room.  There was a frequent loss of impetus as the links between scenes are a long way from seamless.  This is where the logistics of promenade theatre become incredibly exposed.  As an audience, we were never quite sure when it had actually finished – we’d all settled down for drinks and a chat when a scene was brought to us – after this we were moved onto another bar.  After a few minutes, exhaustion kicked in and it was very much time to go to bed (a bunkbed rather than a campbed was much appreciated!)

But as I was there on opening night (presumably their first time with an audience that isn’t made up of their family and friends for dry runs), I am prepared to be forgiving.  They have set themselves an enormous task and are so close to pulling it off.  There are many things to like about this production: The acting I saw was brilliant and the guides remained in character at all times, even when things seemed to be going slightly awry.  There were also some lovely little touches to the set dressing such as a wedding photo of the Macbeths and the bloody bed in Duncan’s flat.

Macbeth is the perfect production for the building and comedy is a brilliant way to manage the gaps between scenes – I’m just not sure that the two things belonged together in the same show.  But if RIFT want to try their hand at a through-and-through comedy in promenade (with Uri, of course), I will absolutely be buying a ticket.