Punchdrunk vs. ENO – The Duchess of Malfi

Last night we went along to see The ENO/Punchdrunk co-production of The Duchess of Malfi at a remote office block in the east end of London. This was touted as one of the ‘must see’ events of the theatrical season in London, and caused the ENO’s ticketing server to crash quite horrendously when it went on sale – luckily I managed to grab four tickets in the melee, and now I really wish I’d gotten more as it was quite splendid.

For those of you not familiar with Punchdrunk, they formed in 2000 to create immersive theatrical experiences where the audience is expected to wander around, interact with the performance to some degree and to create their own relationship with the works rather than just sitting in a chair and watching. Audience members at Punchdrunk events are required to wear masks which helps to separate audience from performers, but also creates a wonderful sense of alienation. Instead of creating a single thread of narrative that unfolds on the stage in front of you, there are little nuggets of story happening all over the venue and your participation in this requires you to find and unravel what’s going on. To add complexity, Punchdrunk events are generally quite dimly lit and involve a lot of subtle set dressing that just adds to your confusion, joy and discomfort – to varying levels. And now onto last night’s performance, in which spoilers may be revealed…

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