Tag Archives: Punchdrunk

Fascination Punchdrunk

24 May

I posted the following thoughts on my other blog a couple of months ago. Due to lack of time said other blog has been neglected for ages and will probably vanish in the not too far away future. However, this post is theatre related and I figured I might as well make it a part of my theatre blog. I know most of my readers watch “regular” theatre: Musicals and straight plays. A lot have probably never been to an immersive show. But maybe even those who have had no contact with this form of theatre so far will find the following interesting.

Why do I love Punchdrunk and what do I get out of their shows? I’ve been asked about this several times so I thought I’d try and answer once and for all.

For those who don’t know: Punchdrunk are a British theatre company who specialise in immersive shows. They take over whole buildings and transform them into a huge and insanely detailed set. The masked audience is free to explore the set and follow performers who play out a story throughout the building. Now and then an audience member will get chosen for a very personal one on one performance with a performer and if you are lucky you might even get a walk out at the end of the show – the most personal way to end a Punchdrunk performance. Usually a Punchdrunk show lasts 3 hours in which the characters play out their one hour long  story (called loop) three times. That way the audience has the chance to see several storylines, revisit favourite scenes or watch narratives from different angles.
I got hooked on Punchdrunk through their production The Drowned Man which ran in a former postal sorting office next to Paddington Station for a year. The building had been transformed into the 1960s film studio Temple Studios (including a western town, a desert and so much more), the story was a take on Woycek with references to Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust. My current Punchdrunk obsession is Sleep No More in New York which tells the story of Macbeth in a 1930s hotel (The McKittrick) with references to Hitchcock’s Rebecca. I attended The Drowned Man 34 times in just 4 months (I was late to the party, something I will always regret) and have seen Sleep No More 45 times so far.


The Drowned Man

The number of visits alone is enough to produce raised eyebrows whenever I talk about my love for Punchdrunk shows. Even though I have seen other, regular theatre productions more it is the fact that I will happily watch 10 Punchdrunk performances in a row without ever getting bored. It sounds insane and people keep asking what makes me go back again and again.


Sleep No More

First of all it’s the quality of performance you get to see when attending a Punchdrunk show. Some of the finest dancers and actors can be found in their productions and watching these guys and girls do what they do best while often standing just a few metres away is breathtaking. The second aspect is the set. Attending a Punchdrunk show is more than just watching a performance. You are transported into another world the minute you enter the building. I used to say going to see The Drowned Man was like visiting my second home. And it really felt like that after a while. When The Drowned Man closed I honestly felt like I had lost my save place – the place I could spend three hours in and forget about the outside world.


The Hotel Lobby in Sleep No More

I guess that’s one of the main things that attracts me to Punchdrunk. Watching their shows means leaving everything else behind for the time being. It’s like a timeout from regular life. You get to be in a different world and to a certain extend you become someone else too. There is definitely a psychological aspect to it – everyone wants to break out sometime. I don’t consider myself the most outgoing person in real life. I don’t trust people easily. However, in a Punchdrunk show I have no problem putting my trust into a (most of the time) complete stranger. I don’t know most of the performers in the show and yet I’ve let them blindfold me, take me into pitch black rooms, force feed me oranges (don’t ask) and I’ve drunk whatever they have handed me without asking what exactly I was about to swallow. It’s the strange thing a Punchdrunk show will do to me. I become obedient in a way but it also sets me free. No worries, no second thoughts, no pondering if doing this or that is a good idea or not. In a Punchdrunk show I can just BE. It’s like walking around in a dream and it gives me goosebumps every single time. The thrill cannot be described, it has to be experienced.


The desert in The Drowned Man

The Drowned Man probably described it best in one of its most used quotes: “We live inside a dream.” This is exactly what Punchdrunk shows are for me. The chance to live in another reality, if only for a few hours. And who doesn’t want that now and then.

You can find out about Punchdrunk’s latest ventures here.
And if you are ever in New York I urge you to check into The McKittrick for an evening.

A personal message

17 Jul

I was planning to post several reviews this week catching up with all the shows I saw on my last trip to London and Leeds. However, on Monday I received a message that put a stop to those plans. At the end of last week a friend of mine sadly passed away unexpectedly.

Brian was a kind and funny man. He travelled all the way from Colorado to watch The Drowned Man in London again and again (my trips from Germany were nothing compared to his efforts to see the show!). I only saw him a couple of weeks ago on my last trip to New York. It seems unreal that I will never wait in the queue with him again pre Sleep No more, never have a post show drink in the Manderley with him again, never meet up for brunch at The Heath on a Sunday again.
He was such a vital part of the Punchdrunk community sharing his experiences in (sometimes insanely detailed) show write ups. Everyone who spoke to Brian about The Drowned Man or Sleep No More would notice how his eyes lit up when he talked about his favourite characters and performers. He once said Punchdrunk completely changed his outlook on life.

You can find Brian’s show reports in his blog: http://shuttersopen.tumblr.com/. Read them even if you have no connection to the shows. Brian’s passion and enthusiasm for the things he loved most is infectious.

I’ve decided to talk about this on here because a donation page has been set up in Brian’s memory. Every pound goes directly to Punchdrunk and so helps to support future projects that hopefully will have just as much of an impact on others as The Drowned Man and Sleep No More had on Brian.

Please take a look, give if you can or just think of Brian for a minute and share. We want the memory of Brian to live on through his love for Punchdrunk.


Punchdrunk Enrichment’s Against Captain’s Orders at the National Maritime Museum Greenwich

15 May

For me Punchdrunk are the most exciting theatre company around. Their immersive show The Drowned Man changed the way I look at theatre and it’s completely Punchdrunk’s fault I am spending way more money than I should on return visits to New York lately.

So obviously I had to check out their new theatrical family adventure set at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Against Captain’s Orders is a Punchdrunk Enrichment production aimed at 6-to-12-year-olds. I don’t really fit into that category anymore but lets face it – we all love to let out our inner child now and then.


Without giving too much away I am going to say this about the show: It’s an imaginative, fun and captivating journey into the depths of the museum. Those of you who have seen The Drowned Man will notice some familiar smells. I don’t think I ever mentioned it before but if you like unusual and intriguing fragrances I urge you to check out Demeter or their UK website Library of Fragrance. Punchdrunk use these fragrances in most of their shows and just smelling scents like “Thunderstorm” or “Fireplace” will transport you back into their theatrical world.

Against Captain's Orders

Against Captain’s Orders combines theatre and education as the audience embarks on a hunt for 4 lost objects. Assigned to one of four teams the audience becomes the crew of the MS Adventure. The attention to detail in the set is astonishing – just try and count the number of bottles in one of the rooms, all of which have been hand filled with messages. And make sure you pay attention to any signs you pass on your way. The cast of two does a wonderful job in guiding the audience through the story, always making sure to keep the focus on the kids and encouraging them to get involved.

And Punchdrunk wouldn’t be Punchdrunk if there weren’t a few scary touches, dark corners, creepy music and, of course, a maze. Even though this show is aimed at children it is well worth checking out for adults too. Due to high demand Punchdrunk Keyholders and National Maritime Museum Members can attend an adult only version of the show on Thursday evenings. Personally I’d say this would be the perfect time to start supporting Punchdrunk by becoming a Keyholder especially if you don’t have a child at hand to take along to the regular daytime performances of the show.


I could go on about what exactly happenes at Against Captain’s Orders but there is a reason Punchdrunk like to keep details about their shows to themselves. There is no bigger thrill than going in without knowing what to expect. So I’ll suggest that you do just that. Put on your life jacket, join the crew and go Against Captain’s Orders at the National Maritime Museum.

Against Captain’s Orders is running at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich until 31st August 2015 with special adult only performances on Thursday evenings. For more info and to book tickets go here: http://www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/events/against-captains-orders

To find out more about Punchdrunk and their work please visit http://punchdrunk.com.

Immersive – the new theatrical “in” word

11 Nov

Is it just me or has immersive become the “in” word to describe theatre productions over the past year or so? I asked this question on Twitter the other day stating that most shows that call themselves immersive don’t even fit into that scheme.
A site specific production is not automatically immersive. The same goes for a promenade performance. I get the feeling a lot of people (even those who work in theatre) just don’t know what immersive actually means. Either that or we are talking about producers selling a product knowing fully well customers won’t get what they paid for.

The Drowned Man (Punchdrunk)

The Drowned Man (Punchdrunk)

I watched a production of Titus Andronicus a few weeks ago. The show was staged in a car park and called itself immersive. I loved the show and was impressed by the modern and unusual approach to the material. But Titus Andronicus in a car park was not immersive. It was a promenade production, simple as that. I spoke to one of the performers about this and he agreed that there was no way this production could be called immersive. After all immersive is more than getting a hug or a handshake from a performer and watching the performance while walking through or standing in the middle of the set.
Most so called immersive shows are site specific and/or promenade productions – be it Titus Andronicus in a car park or Here Lies Love in a club-like venue. Some of them may have certain immersive elements but very few shows that are advertised as immersive actually deserve that label.


Titus Andronicus – Promenade but not immersive

So what makes a show immersive then? It’s quite simple: An immersive show makes you feel part of the story. It’s not to be confused with an interactive show in which you actually take part in the story and in which your decisions might even change the course of the show. Even though immersive shows usually have aspects of audience interaction, the audience doesn’t actually decide anything. You feel like you are in the story, performers interact with you, it looks like you are a part of what is happening. But everything you see and everything that happens is choreographed and very much controlled. And that is the beauty of immersive shows. They draw you in and make you feel part of them but they never let you take control in any way. Still you will end up thinking about your experiences for days, weeks, maybe even months. Immersive shows often have a much bigger impact on the audience than other kinds of shows.

Sleep no more (Punchdrunk)

A performer who has been working with Punchdrunk (the “Gods” of immersive theatre) for years once told me about “The Drowned Man” (Punchdrunk’s last London production and a prime example of an immersive show): “This show is not interactive. We (the performers) and the director decide the course of the performance. The audience is a part of this but they have no influence in what happens in the show. We just make them believe they do.”

That sums it up quite well I think.

Then She Fell, another great example of an immersive theatre production

Then She Fell, another great example of an immersive theatre production


St Ethelburga’s Hallowtide Fair – Punchdrunk Enrichment

7 Oct

Usually I concentrate on reviewing shows and events that have already happened or are currently running. I’m going to make an exception this time because I think this project deserves to be featured and promoted.

Eastbury Manor and Punchdrunk Enrichment present
St Ethelburga’s Hallowtide Fair

This Halloween, Punchdrunk Enrichment are working with local Barking and Dagenham residents to reimagine a legendary Hallowtide Fair that visited Barking every October in the nineteenth century but has long been forgotten.  Created for and by the community in a magnificent Tudor building – Eastbury Manor House – St Ethelburga’s Hallowtide Fair will be a magical experience for local families featuring stalls, festive music and traditional games to captivate all ages.

St Ethelburga was Abbess of Barking Abbey and each October pilgrims would flock to Barking to commemorate her Feast Day.  A local fair was held in her honour attracting visitors from far and wide. Eastbury Manor House is an enchanting property that has changed little in appearance since it was built in the 1600s.  The building has been used as a museum, an Air Raid shelter, a hospital, a stable, a merchant’s house, an outpost to Barking Abbey and may even have played its part in Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot.

Over the last few months, Punchdrunk Enrichment has invited Barking and Dagenham residents to Eastbury Manor to share memories of the local area and their responses to this extraordinary building.  These stories have inspired the Hallowtide Fair which will take place over three days from 31st October to 2nd November and will be designed, built and brought to life by the local community.

This will be a Halloween celebration like no other – something unexpected and new, created from local history, memories and legends. Visitors who delve a little deeper will be rewarded; discovering unexpected mysteries, hidden rooms and surprises within this magnificent Tudor building.  As the Hallowtide Fair is brought back to life the stories of the past begin to seep into the present…

Tickets are available to Barking and Dagenham residents here: http://www.thebroadwaybarking.com/event/st-ethelburgas-hallowtide-fair/

If you happen to be a local resident and find yourself with some spare time around Halloween I urge you to give this a go. It’s bound to be a great event for adults and kids.

Here’s some info about Punchdrunk Enrichment:

Since 2008, Punchdrunk’s Enrichment team has taken this immersive practice into communities, creating performances with and for children, young people and the wider community. Punchdrunk Enrichment has enjoyed widespread success, working with over 40,000 young people and community members since its inception. Punchdrunk Enrichment has worked with over 200 schools, creating groundbreaking educational projects which place pupils and teachers at the heart of the experience and provide a real catalyst for learning.
Punchdrunk Enrichment aims to give audiences and participants an unforgettable experience, which ignites and inspires their imaginations by involving them directly in an enthralling theatre story.

Here’s one example of the great work Punchdrunk do through their Enrichment programme.





The Drowned Man – Temple Studios

25 Mar

It is very rare I find myself in the situation of being completely unable to review a show after watching it for the first time. Sometimes putting together a review can be a challenge because it is hard to remember details when I am watching a show I am completely unfamiliar with. But usually I have built up an opinion and know the reasons behind my views of the individual performances and the show as a whole.

And then I went to see The Drowned Man, the latest production by Punchdrunk. Actually the term “see” doesn’t do the show justice. You don’t go and see The Drowned Man. You experience it, you become a part of it, you dive into another world – and trust me, I am not exaggerating.


Set in Temple Studios – a fictional film studio – The Drowned Man is a promenade performance that lets the audience (who are wearing white masks throughout the performance) find their own path and explore the set, follow the performers and experience the story they tell through dance and acting up close.
The sets within the building represent internal and external locations within Temple Studios and the outskirts of the town nearby which it is situated. The two main stories mirror each other, both telling the story of a couple – one within Temple Studios and one living on the outskirts of the town. The main characters play out a tragic love story while the various supporting characters embellish the details of that story but also have some independent side-stories of their own. Many aspects of the narrative are based on Georg Buchner’s unfinished play Woyzeck including the main themes.


It is hard to describe what it feels like to enter the set and start making your way through the different rooms in the film studio, the trailer park, the desert and such. It’s overwhelming and a bit scary and I admit I felt a bit lost during my first visit. The performance lasts for up to 3 hours which sounds like a lot of time but once you are inside Temple Studios you realise there is so much to see and 3 hours won’t even give you the chance to explore 25% of what the show has to offer. If I had to say how much of The Drowned Man I saw on my first visit my answer would be 5-10%. I spent a while following one of the main characters, explored two floors a bit, ran into some other characters and I was lucky enough to see both murders that happen in the show. But that’s about it – I didn’t even reach the basement floor and spent most of my time in town, mainly because I was drawn to a certain character as soon as I stumbled upon him (or better: as soon as he almost ran into me on his drunken walk around town) and decided to stick with him. But then that is what The Drowned Man is all about. It’s not about seeing the whole thing – it’s about finding your own path and having a unique and personal experience. If that means following a drunk character who staggers around town muttering abuse (and occasionally offers you a shot in the Saloon if you are lucky enough) then that is perfectly fine.


Since my first visit I have come back two times and each time I have been able to grasp more of the whole experience that is The Drowned Man. On my second visit I followed one character for his whole loop (each character’s story loop lasts an hour, then it starts all over again theoretically giving you the chance to follow three characters’ complete loop during one visit) and I was rewarded with both of his 1:1s. What is a 1:1 you will now ask? A lot of the characters have one or more scenes they act out with just one audience member, usually in a locked room. These 1:1s are a pretty intense experience. I won’t say what happened in my two 1:1s with Mr. Stanford – the character I followed first on my second visit or in my 1:1 with Badlands Jack – my favourite drunk town character (huge thumbs up to Sean Edwards who is so wonderfully physical in his portrayal of Badlands – I was completely in awe), as the show relies heavily on the mystery and secrecy surrounding it. Lets just say this much: If you have a problem with strangers heavily invading your personal space you might want to avoid the 1:1s. They are a nice opportunity to get rid of the mask for a while though as often the performers will take if off your face during the 1:1. Plus I have to say personally I loved being included in the character’s story for at least a few minutes no matter how creeped out I was – a 1:1 is a proper thrill, simple as that.


So should you go and experience The Drowned Man? Absolutely! Just don’t expect a normal theatre experience and go in there with an open mind and a healthy amount of curiosity. Don’t try and research the show too much beforehand – find your own way in there. The show encourages you to explore on your own and I can only tell you to go along with this. Don’t stick to your companions – wander off and enjoy 3 hours in another world, then meet your friends in the bar afterwards and compare your experiences.

I cannot recommend The Drowned Man highly enough. It is disturbing, a little creepy and odd in parts but it is also fascinating and slightly mind-blowing – all in all, an experience you don’t want to miss out on. The show is currently booking until May but an extension is likely. However, don’t leave it until last-minute because chances are high one visit won’t be enough.

For info and to book tickets visit http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable.

To find out more about Punchdrunk and their work go to http://punchdrunk.com.