I realised this was going to be more than just a play but wow! I usually write about shows after I’ve seen them but this has already started. First there was the census to complete, then came a mask to print out. There’s a costume to make and now I seem to be involved in some sort of conspiracy, establishing a secret place to exchange messages. Even worse, my wife seems to be on the other side. Punchdrunk take note – this is real immersive theatre: I’m already immersed and I haven’t even reached the event yet. I’ll report on that when I get there at the weekend but it’s already become the theatrical event of the year.
This was an astonishingly intense production that deserves the five star reviews it has received. The set and the direction were stunning and it was certainly far more rewarding than The Drowned Man, based on the same story. I am not sure the balance between the orchestra and singers was quite right, with the latter sometimes overwhelmed by Berg’s use of brass but the music itself is wonderfully dramatic. Despite this, the man next to me spent 10-15 minutes sneezing and loudly blowing his nose before falling asleep for half an hour. Sometimes it can be kinder to the other members of the audience to go on sick leave.
I had high expectations of this which were sadly not met. Subtitled a Hollywood Fable, Punchdrunk have created an amazing installation, a huge ex-sorting office turned into Temple Studios, in which a story is being acted. As some parts of the story happen in small spaces and the total audience is around 600, it means most people do not see most of the action. Other blogs have recommended following a specific character around but they moved too quickly for me to follow so all I got was glimpses. Some were very intense, e.g. a naked man being drowned/baptised/washed by a woman in a blood-red bath; others were banal. In all, I probably saw less than half an hour’s action in nearly three hours.
Punchdrunk had told us the performance ended at 8 p.m. so when a member of staff ushered us towards the ground floor at 7:45, we assumed we were being herded out and left. Asking why there were still so many bags at the compulsory bag check-in, the woman told us that the finale was taking place at that moment! I considered going back in but could probably not have seen it with that many people in front of, just as I hadn’t been able to see the last couple of things I had tried to follow. If you are young and energetic, willing to push us older people out of the way and follow the action then it may well be great; if not, save your money.