Posts Tagged ‘Punchdrunk’

Review – the Uncommercial Traveller – Punchdrunk and Arcola Theaters

July 19, 2011

So. Punchdrunk and the Arcola hook up. Their baby is as follows: “Inspired by The Uncommercial Traveller, Charles Dickens account of his wanderings around London, Arcola Theatre and Punchdrunk Enrichment present an unexpected encounter in a surprising East London location.”

Inspired by wanderings? And there is “a headphone journey?” So a promenade, eh?

Well, once again I totally missed the boat in interpreting what kind of show I was going to see, as I was certain we were going to actually walk around the neighborhood (right next to the Geffrye as it turned out) and packed a raincoat and hat in preparation. I was excited about seeing the neighborhood through Dickens’ eyes! And then on the day of we had the kind of torrential downpour I associate more with Tropical Storm Insert Name here, and when I did finally make it to the location (late due to rain delays) I was THRILLED that it turned out all we were going to do was sit in a darkened room with a few actors and have a little chat.

The atmosphere was very cool in the space: a room lit by dim lamps, with 5 people in costume sat at tables. I saw a baldish man, a woman who looked like a fortune teller, and a lady well past her prime hiding behind a fan. We were ushered to our seats (in the People’s Soup Collective or something like this) by the proprietress, who evenly distributed us around the various actors. When she disappeared, the actors began to engage us. I only got my experience, which I will relate here: a woman in her mid fifties, wearing a tattered wedding dress (not very appropriate for any Victorian era but that’s community theater for you) and with a bouquet of dried roses, introduced herself (“Millie Perkins”) and told the three of us how she’d come to London. She was poor but honest, working as a seamstress in the soup shop and living downstairs.

At this point we were interrupted by the proprietress, who handed out cups with soup in them to all present. It was vegetable, and very nice too. Millie continued to tell us about her boyfriend, Robert, and how he was going to be married to her tomorrow “but ‘e ‘asn’t been seen in six weeks.” I foresaw difficulties ahead for Millie’s romantic life. Millie, meanwhile, asked us about our sweethearts and doled out advice on how to catch and keep a man.

Then the lights went dark briefly and, when they rose, the actors one by one took groups of people through the building and downstairs. The interior was all very atmospheric: I wondered if Victorian restaurants (for the poor) were always poorly lit, or if they would have had big windows. Meanwhile, the downstairs was split up by hanging curtains, very much reminding me of what I’d read about housing conditions in the London slums in the late Victorian era. We were taken into Millie’s room and sat on her bed while she went through her things. At one point a piercing scream rent the air – “Oh, ignore that woman, she does it all the time” – and then, to no suprise, we had the denouement that Robert would not be attending the wedding via a little note Millie gave to me to read. She also screamed, then told us to leave her alone. We exited via a different back door, going past a man who sat sharpening knives menacingly.

All told I actually really enjoyed my little adventure despite it being not what I expected. Even though Millie’s story was slim, the atmosphere was great, the price was right (£6), and at 20 minutes it was like a little appetizer that whet the appetite rather than outstaying its welcome. My companion, Fausterella, also enjoyed it, and like me enjoyed catching up with other people about what they had seen (sadly neither of us got the Sweeney Todd style butcher man). However, Gareth James, who went on the same day, felt quite differently about it all. I don’t feel ultimately like I got much Dickens out of it, but I am still intrigued by the walk described on the Arcola’s website and will probably do it in my free time.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, July 17th, 2011. This was the last day of this show.)

Mini-review – Duchess of Malfi – Punchdrunk with English National Opera

July 20, 2010

If you’re among the many who failed to get tickets for this sell-out, I say to you, cry no more. From the minute the horror of the location set in – a true horror, that is, as the show is done in a modern office park – I realized that this was Punchdrunk tripping over its laurels. There was no more magic in those dropped ceilings than in the diaper the fox left in my back yard last Sunday. While digging for either atmosphere or a performance (the hunt is always part of the Punchdrunk “experience,” or frustration in my case), I came upon room after room that had eminently failed to create the sense of mystery in every other show of theirs I’d seen: the feeling that I was finding clues that would tell me more about the story. Instead, the designer seemed to run out of ideas before he (or shee) ran out of rooms, leaving most of them just jammed full of junk. (The saving grace is the first floor bar; if you are somehow still going to see this show, perhaps just to feel like you got your 35 quid worth, a solid hour in the bar will go a long way to take the sting out of your evening.) If nothing else, it was air conditioned, but that is cold comfort indeed.*

And then there is the performance: bad modern dance and painful modern opera. God, I keep going to opera, again and again, and so many times it just fails, fails, fails, and here I got to watch it failing (though sung well) from mere inches away. I think I only saw four scenes at the most, and each of them was unpleasant, atonal crap. The dance is also weak. I think using it with opera is a good idea, but why couldn’t it have been good modern dance?

In the end the best moment of the night was watching a set of bass players throwing every bit of themselves into creating music while people turgidly crashed around on a large stage behind me. It shouldn’t have been the highlight of my evening, but it was the one moment when I was utterly caught up in what was happening in front of me. Otherwise, this was a painfully wasted evening. My consolation? I got to have a wonderful discussion about “Magic Flute: The Super-Mario Production” afterwards with my likewise disappointed companion. I’ll remember it much longer than this show.

*I couldn’t help myself. Sorry.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 19th, 2010. I was really let down. I don’t even want to look up links.)

Review – Tunnel 228 – Punchdrunk at Waterloo

May 11, 2009

The fates shone upon my Saturday night, when my heartfelt plea for a ticket to 228 at last got a useful response from a person named “Karl,” who saw my post and didn’t want his ticket wasted. I sent him a series of increasingly excited emails, which culminated in the delivery of a PDF good for three people’s entry to the project the next day at 3:40. WOO HOO! And while it was certainly a lovely spring day outside, I in no way hesitated as I jumped on the Northern line and headed toward Waterloo. Art ahoy!

Apparently a lot of other people didn’t bother going (based on the holes in the guest log), though I’m not sure if it was the weather or the location. Tunnel 228 is located on the west and south side of Waterloo, down a side street called “Station Approach Road” that wraps all the way around the front of the station (possibly misleading the unwary – I’ve created a Google map that should set you straight were you to attempt to find it).

Now, the sad thing about giving away tickets to an event for free is that often people will just not bother to turn up (and people rarely have the strength of character of Karl, who I think is my karmic payback for giving away my Royal Opera House balcony seats to some poor folks in the standing side slips two weeks back). The question is, then, how can you get a ticket to go if you want to? My advice to the brash is just to go to the location and present yourself and ask “to take the place of any workers that may have failed to report for your shift.” This is in keeping with the whole idea of Tunnel 228, that people who are attending are going to work, and it just might prove charming enough to get you in the door. Daytime slots would probably work best as people would be more likely to flake out then. You might also ask people who are on their way in if they have any extra room on their tickets. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The next question is, of course – how was it?

Keep in mind, this is an art exhibit, not a theatrical presentation – in no way is it Masque of the Red Death or Faust. It’s presented in a very atmospheric environment, very beautifully lit tunnels that still feel kind of scary (and are most certainly dark). Inside, there is a steampunk thing going on – partially natural (the brick arches overhead, the broken bits), partially forced (the giant wooden wheel with the person walking in it to power other machinery, the train track with a small platform on it, the automated operating room). There are also several pure art pieces, and a few performance pieces (only two, I think, unless there was one hiding in an alcove I missed). The biggest thing actually went through several rooms – it started in the third hall (there are about four halls in total in the piece and one upstairs area), where a person pushed the platform down the track, counterbalanced on the other end by a person suspended from the ceiling, all part of a Rube Goldberg contraption in which the iron ball that was dropped swung out in a giant arm that went down a series of chutes, leading to a tiny train that took off down a dark puddle (in hall four), which finally circled up to shoulder level and knocked over all the books on a shelf edging the room with the track in it, somehow setting off the person in the wooden wheel, leading to a whole bunch of electric lights going off in the hall behind the wheel (creating rather a lovely fairy land) and illuminating a tacky statue of Christ sitting in an electric chair. It was really quite the spectacle (well, it was neat) but it seemed fairly devoid of any emotional content or wider context so it didn’t really hit the notes it might have.

In other places in the exhibit, I saw:
a room full of paper trees, with paper moths on the walls
a statue of a woman falling over in despair, at a table where she was watched by a crow
a coffin with baby birds (real ones, but very dead) crawling out of the corners
several tiny dioramas (a gas station, a Bingo hall, a grocery store)
a woman performing a sleazy dance for a fat cat businessman (this was live), visible only through a peep hole
an iron tank about six feet tall with two peepholes, one of which showed a woman surfacing from the water (in 3D!) and then disappearing, the lower showing her breathing bubbles into a man trapped underwater
several machines with tornadoes of water or vapor inside them, lit beautifully

I really enjoyed it, though I spent only an hour there – the sense of discovery was high, though the humor associated in my mind with Rube Goldberg meant I couldn’t take the Metropolis overtones seriously at all – it was more City Life than The Diamond Age. Overall, though, it didn’t have the oomph I got out of Punchdrunk’s larger events – but as an art exhibit, it was great and a million times more fun than any normal gallery show!

(Tunnel 228 continues through May 23rd, 2009. But all entry tickets are spoken for, so good luck getting in if you don’t have a ticket, though it may be remounted in the fall.)

Find me a ticket to Tunnel 228!

May 8, 2009

Dammit, I only yesterday read about the Punchdrunk Art in the Abandoned Tunnels project, and the damned thing is full! If anyone has ANY ability to get an extra ticket to me, can you please let me know? My gratitude would know no bounds!

LATER: WOOT! I scored! Going on Sunday!

EVEN LATER: My tips on getting tickets, and my review, now online.