The Masque of the Red Death takes its title from Poe’s 1842 short story of the same name, in which a thousand nobles attend a masquerade ball in a walled abbey in an attempt to escape the plague. However, Punchdrunk’s piece is based on a collection of nine Poe stories in total, also including The Fall of the House of Usher and The Black Cat.
On entering the installation, theatregoers, for whom evening dress is optional, are given masks to wear as they wander through BAC’s corridors for up to three hours, culminating with a cabaret in Prince Prospero’s Palace. The production is performed by a 28-strong company, directed by Felix Barrett and choreographed by Maxine Doyle.
Faust won both rave reviews as well as critical approval in the form of the Critics’ Circle Award for best design. With The Masque of the Red Death, critics were beguiled once again by the company’s ability to “totally” transform BAC into a “gothic palace of delights and surprises” as well as for the creation of such a sensual – and highly erotic – promenade experience. If there were caveats about lack of dramatic cohesion or macabre repetition, they didn’t prevent a fresh round of plaudits for the pioneering company’s new piece, which one reviewer hailed as “one of the most mind-blowingly imaginative pieces I have ever seen”.
- by Terri Paddock