Saturday, November 11, 2006

I have been a non-passive participant in a piece of site-specific theatre. Say that after a few glasses of sherry...

I had an amazing experience on Tuesday, and shoving it under the label of 'theatre' doesn't quite do it justice.

Under cover of a darkening sky and a shadowly moon, I and my fellow theatre-goer hastened to Wapping - truly a place of dark deeds and mysterious arts. And warehouses converted into trendy yuppy flats. We went to see the Punchdrunk production of Faust.

(Background to the Faust story c/o Wikipedia here.)

Now then. Punchdrunk are a theatre company who, according to their ever-so-slightly-spooky website, "create a theatrical environment in which the audience are free to choose what they watch, where they go... Punchdrunk rejects the passive obedience expected of auidences in conventional theatre."

And they ain't just whistling dixie, friends. Although I would argue that good conventional theatre is anything but passive, this was breathtaking.

Upon reaching Wapping we made our way to a former archive building, supposed a secret location, fitted out across five floors to represent the heaven and hell of Faust's tale. Starting in a good-time American bar created from scratch somewhere on the ground floor. The 8pm entry group, including us, were made to don white masks, so we looked like something out of Eyes Wide Shut. I took this picture of me wearing mine the toilets, so you can get an idea of what we looked like.

We were shuffled into a service lift, away from the most direct light we would see all evening, and various groups dropped off at different floors of the building.

And then, you see, we joined the rolling production. We could go where we wanted and when. The story was happening all aroud us, all of the time.

All I know is this - it is all still running round my head today, like hot blood dripping of a steely knife.

Utterly amazing. The more you put into it, the more you got out of it. You could follow one particular character, or wander off and wait for some action to reach you, or even investigate the many rooms and corridors, all imaculately decked out.

I drifted into a small, dark room with candles and a statue of the virgin mary, with a small, white coffin laid out upon an alter. All of a sudden one of the characters rushed in to the room, hotly pusued by one other audience member, and approached the coffin. After a few moments she turend and looked us both dead in the eye, rent with despair, not a metre away. It was electric!

The atmospshere was incredible - helped with the amazing sounds and music, both recorded and sung by the performers. There was so much I must have missed, with everything happening at the same time, but equally there was so much that practically only I or a few other people saw. Wicked. I know from speaking with my companion afterwards there was a lot he caught that completelly passed me by.

Equally there were scenes we both saw, such as the dance and wicked jiving with most of the cast and the 'finale' in the basement, that we were both in the same room for and had no idea.

Masking the audience is clever - as soon as you see a face you know they are a character. But even if you are taking a break from the action, just wandering around the room and taking in the scenery was more than enough. When on my own (again - some of the characters took quite a lot of keeping up with, and more than once did I collide head on with a spectator going energetically in the opposite direction - whoops!), I discovered a floor I hadn't been on yet, containing a dark cornfield, and suddenly there was one of the leads running through it, who I followed through the field, but then lost in a maze and barn, and then I was in an archive room with a single set of shelves lit up and piles of old manscripts...

Also in the building were an entire forest, an office, several bars and houses, a cafeteria, a hotel, a dusty field, a collapsed church and a cinema. So you can see there was alot to keep us busy.

Now if only I had given my coat to Jed...

Trippy. Like a dream. Not much talking - and believe me it didn't need it. Wish I could go again. As soon as the service lift door opened, there is nothing that wasn't part of the experiece - either planned, improvised or in passing. I cannot begin to imagine how long it must have taken to put together. I can't really do better at explaining it than this review from The Stage.

And. On the way out, we spotted one of those old-time, green screen, all-in-one-unit computers, the like of which is no longer seen by man nor beast. Unless it's a retro E4 advert or something. Kewl.


Gareth said...

I read this yesterday (yes, shame on me for only commenting now), and have been thinking about it's general brilliance ever since. It even manifested itself in a dream I had last night, though it had warped into taking place in some sort of multi story petrol station, and being about Lindsay Lohan having problems with her Toyota.

If I'm in London before March then I am there. Though I'm crossing my fingers for them setting up shot in Birmingham...

han said...

This looks like the greatest thing EVER!

A good few years ago I went on a 'theatrical' coach tour of Sheffield called 'Nights In This City' - an atmospheric late night trip featuring a drunk & disorientated tour guide, ending up in a disused bus station - I should blog about it really....

There's no way I'm going to miss this one - this sort of thing is right up my street :)

Boz said...