Punchdrunk Production’s Masque of the Red Death – Battersea Arts Centre

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Sold out as it was months in advance, I was quite excited to finally have the date arrive for which I’d bought tickets to see Masque of the Red Death at the Battersea Arts Centre (especially since it’s near the Clapham Common train station, an easy five minutes by train from my place). I had some idea of what to expect after having been to see the same company’s Faust the year before, but in some ways I really had no idea what was going to happen. I hadn’t prepared by reading any Poe, I hadn’t read other people’s reviews, I just didn’t know what was going to happen other than that there would be different rooms and I would need to explore. And, I was firmly hoping, there would be a bar.

We arrived for the 7:15 show – I wanted the earlier tickets because I knew there would be too much for me to see in the time given. We had a group of 10, including my Streatham pack of pals, my houseguest, Wechsler and my spousal unit. Once we had masks on (Venetian-style white face masks, required for all audience members), it became difficult to tell them apart from everyone else (Simon’s orange hair and bald spot; Paul’s fluffy black hair and leather trenchcoat; Wechsler’s Cyberdog’s necklace), though since I was wearing my red silk Victorian bustle outfit I was pretty easy to pick out. We were split up almost immediately, and while I managed to keep together with my three, the rest of the group only really came back together at some magical point in The Golden Bug, the bar slash music hall stuffed up a stairwell in the building. This bit was really great, as two of us were called upon during a “magic” show in which Roderick Usher “read our minds” – fascinating when just a short time earlier we’d seen him upstairs having fits while his houseguest attempted to rouse him with poetry.

During the three hours we were inside the building I completely failed to view all of the rooms of the building. In part, this was because different rooms seemed to open and close at different times, on a schedule that was a mystery to me. There were also rooms that had entry restricted to just a few guests. I was lucky enough to get into two of these: the library, in which a skull talked to four people about our impending deaths; and “the scientist’s office,” where I had a most peculiar encounter with an older actor who asked to speak to me privately. He chased the other visitors out of the room, then locked the door and began to address me as his “long lost sister, Rose.” He poured me a glass of absinthe, asked me to remove my mask, then proceeded to unburden himself of his guilt over the bizarre experiments he had performed – and the punishment he anticipated in the afterlife. He begged my forgiveness, but I told him that as I was dead, it wasn’t really possible for me to help him. When pressed, I said that I’d lost my memory, and thus could easily forgive him as I remembered nothing. He thanked me, then unlocked the door and ran off. Wow! What an intense moment! I tried to figure out what Poe story featured a character of this sort the next day, but it remains a mystery. And, I’m afraid, in my excitement I dropped the entire contents of my wallet in this room, which rather dampened the post-show cocktail hour.

What’s really odd is that every person I went with seemed to see a different show. It was obvious to me that they were doing something similar to Faust, with a repetition of the main “story” during the course of the night and then one “grand finale” (of course this took place in a ballroom), but everyone I talked to saw different things – a woman murdering a doll, a man seducing a seamstress, the apothecary that gave scented herbs to the visitors, a strange meal in the dining room (with musicians – how did I not hear them), and on and on. I even had one person say that she and the person she was with saw totally different things happening in the same room.

That said, I really want to come back and see this show again, and see the room and stories I missed. It’s clear that it’s more of a tribute to Poe than a recreation of one story, as I thought it would be, and I would benefit from trying to see more rather than trying to make up for my mistake in not following the primary “story” line at Faust – as there is not one in this show. Great show, absolutely worth seeing, don’t miss it!

(This review is for the show that took place on Sunday, December 30th, 2007.)

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One Response to “Punchdrunk Production’s Masque of the Red Death – Battersea Arts Centre”

  1. Review – The Duchess of Malfi – Punchdrunk and E.N.O. on location « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] can run through it all twice before the finale. This is similar to the format Punchdrunk used for Masque of the Red Death last year, which gives the audience more opportunity to see more of the show. But as usual, things […]

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