Duchess of Malfi: The Revenge

Having had such an amazing time at the ENO/Punchdrunk production of The Duchess of Malfi last week we decided to go and do it all again… Was it any different the second time around? Yes, but it lost something in the repetition, the innocence and excitement of the unknown. That said, it was great to follow the Duchess (the excellent Claudia Huckle) around to try and follow her story.

The highlight for me this time was being one of the first people into the building and the intense sense of dread walking around an almost pitch black set, with rate fellow spectators as they emerged from the gloom. In one room where the dry ice machine was on overdrive I had to just stop walking for a bit, it was so unnerving. There was a room on the ground floor I didn’t even enter it was so dark. Eventually other audience members joined me, and at this point the wonder of seeing the bit players come out to lead us all towards the main action took over. Slow dances broke out across the set and eventually the principle singers emerged and the story started. You really started to appreciate the artistry of the stage management, with the lights in areas dimming and intensifying to help draw you towards particular areas, or move you away so for diversionary tactics.

Following the Duchess did lead to some overlap in what I’d already seen, however there were still so many new experiences along the way to be head. Being in the pitch dark as lightning flashes illuminated the Duchess and her brother, a bizarre birth scene with digital baby. Seeing the Cardinal ‘abduct’ a female audience member and give her a solo performance in his room was at once chilling and elicited some jealousy. Being almost knocked over by the Cardinal’s assistant as he ran through the set caused me to swear out loud. During the finale one of the mourners draped themselves against me for a while which was unnerving. There was still more I missed, the secret schoolroom inside a cupboard, and the cardinal’s story, but again it was a superb experience being so close and intimate with talented performers, and one we were glad to repeat. Roll on the next show.

Oh, and as an aside this is apparently my 1000th post on this blog.. Cake anyone?

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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