Review Round-Up: New Punchdrunk premieres in Paddington
Immersive theatre company Punchdrunk's latest show, The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable opened at Temple Studios, Paddington, last night (17 July 2013)
Immersive, subversive, convulsive, divisive: there's nothing half-hearted about Punchdrunk's latest manipulative epic… Here's how weird it is: I watched a climactic scene of murder that appeared to have nothing at all to do with what I'd followed round over the previous three hours… I've no idea which character was whom, nor did it seem to matter. We are like scavengers at a wake, witnessing snapshots, vignettes, a sudden party, or a private moment in a dressing room… The experience is yours alone, you take from it what you can and what you desire. There's a sensational wrap-around movie sound score and a surprise showbiz finale where, miraculously, the whole audience is suddenly assembled from all corners. Go and have a good time, but don't blame me if you don't.
If you've been to a Punchdrunk show before, welcome back. Baby, it's hot inside. If not, abandon all preconceptions of what theatre should be and prepare yourself for a multi-storey treat… I'm not certain biggest means best for Punchdrunk… but it's undeniably galvanising to have them back… Synopses are handed out at the start, but it would be all too easy to spend three hours here and emerge none the wiser about what was actually going on. The glorious thing about Punchdrunk is that it really wouldn't matter… As ever, Punchdrunk offers the destabilising sensation of being returned to Freshers' Week, with its nagging fear that better action is constantly happening elsewhere…
…their new show, co-produced with the National Theatre, strikes me as vastly better than their operatic Duchess of Malfi (2010) without quite achieving the gothic splendour of The Masque of the Red Death (2007). As so often with Punchdrunk, the choice of location is inspired… The design everywhere is immaculate… All this is intriguing, and clearly the intention of the directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle (who also choreographs) is to blur the border between illusion and reality… But that does a disservice to Buchner's original play… In short, there is a social dimension to the play that gets lost when it's treated simply as a heated movie scenario... But it's hard to legislate about a show where everyone will have a different experience. For me, the best moments were often the smallest…
…Should you choose to see this amazing new production yourself – and provided you are sound of limb and don't scare too easily, I cannot recommend it too highly – your own visit will doubtless be completely different from mine… The show is co-directed with thrilling panache by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, with Doyle also in charge of the superb choreography and Barrett heading up the team responsible for the extraordinary designs, which range from the epic to the almost insanely detailed. The show is now booking to December and I would get your tickets sharpish, for this is surely a huge cult hit in the making that will be talked about for years to come.
…Directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle (in this co-production with the National) are bent on disorienting… The designers Livi Vaughan, Beatrice Minns and Felix Barrett have created an impressively eerie, intricately detailed art-installation of a set over four floors… Part of the fun of a Punchdrunk production lies in what you might discover if you have a root round… But the other great Punchdrunk pleasure – chasing round to find the action which erupts non-sequentially and attempting to fit the various pieces together – feels more like a chore here… for all the thrashing around of Maxine Doyle's DV8-style choreography and for all the extraordinary logistical flair of the staging, the dramatic encounters come across as signalled rather than experienced and the show, which ends in a company hoe-down, as over-stretched and lacking in heart.
It's quite possible that you will find this latest immersive spectacular from the trend-setting theatre company Punchdrunk, staged with staggering attention to detail over several floors of a disused sorting office next to Paddington station, to be as exciting as it is evocative… Yes, it's quite possible, but it's not quite the experience I had… There's plenty of material in here. Yet overall I spent more time chasing it than getting wowed or seduced by it… The choreographer Maxine Doyle, who also co-directs with Punchdrunk founder Felix Barrett, puts a sensual grace among the seediness and decay. The design, by Barrett, Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns, is beyond brilliant. Who won't enjoy the dancing, the superbly staged death scenes? Who won't get off on the sumptuous strangeness of it all? And yet I found it wildly impressive but not wildly involving.