This article was originally published in PRODIJEE MAGAZINE #21
“Punchdrunk” is a British theatre company like NO other, immersive, experimental, ostentatious and beautiful!
Punchdrunk’s founder, Felix Barrett has a truly unique and revolutionary approach towards theatrical events, and the world is becoming engulfed in their magic! Barrett wants to push the limits of curiosity and also push the limits of the audience’s comfort zones.
From “Sleep No More” in New York City to “The Drowned Man” in London, Punchdrunk provides a one of a kind experience that can NEVER be repeated… Even if you go to either production repeatedly your experience will differ dramatically. I have been to see “TDM” four times and each time it is strikingly different. They achieve this via their philosophy of letting the audience choose where they go within the sprawling set and letting the audience choose what characters they want to follow. Felix said, “The one thing I would hate is to be rolling out the same predictable fare just because it’s easy. With creativity and practice – sometimes the more of a battle it is, the more you surprise yourself.”
Even after seeing “The Drowned Man” several times I still feel as though I have not even seen HALF of what is on offer to me theatrically. It’s a gem of a production and after over a years run in Central London the show will be closing and Punchdrunk will continue on developing more thrilling and revolutionary work, blurring the lines of reality and fantasy for the audience.
Last week I attended a Punchdrunk workshop (“Professional Development”), led by Fernanda Prata (Punchdrunk’s Rhearsal Director) and Punchdrunk veteran actress – Sarah Dowling who flawlessly plays Delores Grey in “The Drowned Man”.
Held in their current venue “Temple Studios” An intimate group of 8 of us got to work and perform within the “Drowned Man” set. I gained the ability to develop my physical response & connection to others and the space around me. It also enabled me how to react and work off my surroundings physically -things all the cast of Punchdrunk does with utter expertise and beauty.
The 8 of us wriggled about the studio space before embarking on our own piece in groups of two within the different areas of the sprawling, striking set. I can say with ease that this “workshop” was the best that I have ever had the pleasure of attending. A MUST for any Actor or Dancer.
Barrett has also said that “mystery instigates a state of tension in the audience and there’s an apprehension and a sort of nervous excitement that comes from not knowing what’s going to happen next” this is due to the audience exploring, adventuring, doing something that’s “illicit”. As Barrett stated further “That’s why Punchdrunk could never do a comedy, because it’s a totally different state. We’re trying to empower the audience by making them feel like they’re the most important person in the space, and that they’re doing something they shouldn’t be and the more they work the more they’ll discover. You need that tension to be there in order for that to work”.
Punchdrunk feels that we –as a society- are too passive and take things for granted, “everything is accessible via a click”. So their productions require the audience to become proactive and “find gems”. Felix made this clear by saying “We feel proud of those moments that live in our memories and that can only be communicated by talking about them afterwards, instead of going home and watching a little video of our experience.”
It is evident for most of us that our electrical devices leave us missing out on that live experience, Barrett said “the sensation of being real and feeling the effects of our decisions on our own skin. Contact with the real world is increasingly rare and I think people are craving something that they’re actually doing rather than viewing through the lens of a computer screen.” Attacking theatre with this in mind is why Punchdrunk works so evidently well.
Barrett was asked “What are the best words of wisdom you’ve ever received?”
And asserted that “Do it. Don’t talk about it, don’t hypothesize about it – just do it.” And also, “run before you can walk.” Stating that “We fall over quite a bit at Punchdrunk and we scrape our knees, but we always get up and keep going”, wise words indeed.
I am currently working with one of the co-founders of Punchdrunk, the effusive Joel Scott on Epic Stages. (My experience of “EPIC STAGES” will be in a future article, so keep a look out).
Be sure to check out the Punchdrunk website here: www.punchdrunk.com