Saturday, 30 June 2012


30/6/12, Punchdrunk at the McKitterick Hotel, NYC

Macbeth hath murdered sleep.  That's two hours of our lives we won't get back.  It was expensive ($100), they took two unopened bottles of water off me before we were let in and I never saw 'em again, meaning we were dying of thirst by the end, we had to wear uncomfortable (with glasses) Eyes Wide Shut-style masks throughout and it was confusing, just as I remember previous immersive, site-specific theatre experiences to have been (with the exception many years ago of a production in the cellars underneath Edinburgh Old Town which moved sequentially from one site/scene to another and thus provided what these things lack, namely narrative).

Punchdrunk's Masque of the Red Death was a great hit at BAC, and this had good things about it, in particular the immensely elaborate sets over four floors of a rambling building which I think was originally a warehouse (the "hotel" bit being a polite fiction).  But we were constantly stumbling across segments with live actors just before they finished; and when we caught them sufficiently early to follow their development they were exceptionally hard to decode, involving as they did no dialogue and a lot of studied, repetitive action.  The best bits were impressively aggressive dance: two men in a phone box; a woman in a revealing green dress kept on with sticky tape and a prayer being thrown around a hotel living room and over a table by a man who may have been a porter or a barman.

The cast were in 1920s garb, which has become something of a cliche.  The action was supposedly based on Macbeth but, with the exception of the grand finale at a Last Supper-style table in the "ballroom" which brought together the whole cast, a lot of elaborate lighting effects and slow motion, plus Banquo's ghost, and a scene which might have been Duncan's murder, it all bore precious little relevance to Shakespeare.

One of my beefs about this kind of thing is that it's inherently frustrating: you never get to see all of it, which means you end up feeling you've missed something crucial or fascinating or fantastic.  It's not like a smorgasbord, where you can see what's on offer and make a choice; the choice is forced upon you from a menu you're never shown.

As a technical achievement, eight out of ten; but for artistic content, three.

NY Times review here:

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