Felix Barrett in discussion with Josephine Machon: February 2007 - Battersea Arts Centre, London

How to Cite

Barrett, F. and Machon, J., 2007. Felix Barrett in discussion with Josephine Machon: February 2007 - Battersea Arts Centre, London. Body, Space & Technology, 7(1). DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/bst.154


Download HTML







Link to Josephine Machon paper

I began by reminding Felix of one of my students who, when discussing her response to Punchdrunk’s Faust, became frustrated by the fact that she couldn’t find the verbal language to articulate her experience. I clarified that (syn)aesthetics was my attempt to find an academic approach to discussing such work; a method of analysis that embraces the fact that such work is challenging to talk about in its very taxonomy.

JM: Following on from a discussion that I had with Max[ine Doyle] about Punchdrunk’s ethos I’d like to know what your intentions were when you first set out to create work, and what concepts emerged that you see as defining Punchdrunk’s work.

FB: The key thing originally was to empower the audience. It struck me that I was doing a drama degree but I didn’t really enjoy going to the theatre because it felt too self indulgent, it wasn’t for the audience; the conventions of going to the theatre are such that you rush in, invariably late, find your seat still panting and then you endure a first half and, irrespective of whether you like it or not, you sit there in silence, you observe, you praise and then you have the interval and so on. The formula’s all there, and then you queue to get a drink and finally you get there and then the bell goes and you have to go back in. It’s too familiar, too structured. And because of this familiarity, it kind of stops you responding to it because, before you go in, you know what it’s going to be like. Obviously the performance is different each time, and then when you come out you might chat about it for a little bit and then you go for a drink and your conversation changes to something else and you forget about it, as if it never really existed, because you compartmentalise it into ‘theatre’. So what I was interested in doing was to totally empower the audience, make the audience the epicentre of the work, which is what it should be, so they can control it. It also has a lot to do with impact. I was finding a lot of stuff that I was seeing was disappointing, and, in fact, my mum, when she cut back on her hours at work and made a decision to go and see loads of theatre and spent a year going to the theatre three times a week seeing everything that was on and it was a wash of mediocrity. The experiences were fine but nothing special and she’d just forget them. And so my aim was, coupled with empowering the audience, was to strive to get something that smacks them in the guts, strives for a visceral impact, and thus an equivalent memory, so that it lives with you; it’s a real experience, that becomes anecdotal. It’s yours, you own it, you carve your way through it, you created your own evening and it stays with you.

JM: That visceral impact is fundamental to a (syn)aesthetic approach.

FB: It’s really key to what we do.

JM: Would you define what the visceral is for you in terms of the performance experience?

FB: It’s the sense of unease, it’s the fact that your comfort zone is removed, you don’t know what to do. If you don’t move it’s not going to come to you, you have to go there. Doing that, you’ve got the fear, you’ve got the adrenalin, you can feel it, you can feel the temperature, you can sense that you’re part of the show. It’s the unease coupled with the excitement that you’re in control. And there are so many devices we use to aid that from the smells to the use of bass.

JM: Max talked to me about the fact that your concept is very much about space and form and respecting the audience, placing them at the epicentre. Max talked about the liveness of space, or specifically the life of the space, that she felt that you saw and accessed. Would you talk a little more about that idea?

FB: I was very interested early on in installation, just as a word. I didn’t use it as an art-world definition but more to define space that is inherently theatrical and yet has no performance within it; meaning that it’s a space that you walk into and something hits you. There’s an impact, you feel something and it creates some sort of emotional response. I’m a firm believer that every space you go into is saying something; there are echoes in the walls. All we do as a company is draw those out. Compare the most sterile, white cube arts space, which has very little obvious presence, with a Victorian crumbling mansion, which has a whole history which you can see in its walls and feel it in the humidity. It’s about making that theatrical, letting that wash over you, so that that triggers the audience’s imagination.

JM: So in that respect, what happens if the space where the Punchdrunk event finally occurs wasn’t initially the one that you had hoped to work the piece in? 21 Wapping Lane, for example, wasn’t your initial choice for Faust.

FB: We’ve never done a show in the space that I first wanted. Max always gets slightly frustrated with this but I really have to work this way, because it’s the space that builds the show. With Faust I limited myself to a one sentence pitch of what the show was; Faust, Goethe, little bit of Marlowe, with a starting point of the blues legend of Robert Johnson. Beyond that, until we’d actually found the space I wouldn’t let myself imagine anything else. I wanted to get a hospital space for it because I thought, dramaturgically, that would open up a whole new layer; it’s his imagination. We happened upon a psychiatric ward in Goodge Street, which would have been absolutely fantastic. But wherever the space is informs the piece. However, we’ve never been able to pick, it’s simply the size of the space that’s important because the audience need to get lost if they want to, they need to be able to lose themselves in the building. And it needs to be big enough to instil that sense of panic, so that at times they can feel out of control; this can’t be safe, it can’t be legal. One thing I always bang on about is that, even if we did a family show, we’d still need that nerve-racking entrance, because you need to reach that point as you’re entering that your comfort zone is removed, there’s a danger, the adrenalin’s coursing through your veins so that your synapses are firing so that any sensory stimuli we then give to you, the audience, you’ll receive it tenfold. The impact’s greater and it stays with you. It’s a basic, very simple device. Cynically, I suppose you could say that that’s why people like theme parks and Ghost Trains because it’s the same feeling, you feel alive.

JM: And you become most aware of being in the moment.

FB: A space could be ‘made Punchdrunk’ in about half an hour of first discovering it, black out the windows and so on, giving people those little ingredients that make up a show, because it’s the impact of the space on the audience that establishes the show.

JM: Specifically via the way you manipulate that space? Because, to use your word, you’ve been ‘sympathetic’ to whatever you’ve discovered in the space and brought that out?

FB: It’s the crescendo; in terms of the lighting, the sound, in terms of the actual course of the evening, it’s about the crescendo with Punchdrunk. One of our very early shows, we were experimenting with form in an outdoor version of Oedipus and Antigone combined, six hours over the course of a Saturday, summer’s afternoon, a beautiful garden, the place was fantastic, brilliant design team, the installation had little pockets, little groves, then massive woodlands and clearings; it was a joyous thing to behold. But, because it was daytime and thus daylight, and you could the distance that you were walking towards. Even though the detail was fantastic, little huts built of logs and so on, very exciting, but because you could see it as you walked, when you finally arrived there, there wasn’t that sense of discovery. So that’s what I mean by the key thing now is the crescendo, the fact that you don’t know what’s behind the door; it’s so dark down the end of a corridor, should you go down there and when you finally do you get that reward because suddenly [the environment] changes, it’s constantly unpredictable, it constantly evolves.

JM: It goes beyond the aesthetic experience of the visual.

FB: Giving that experience suspense, tension. A lot of other site companies are far more about ambience, almost a relaxing experience, like living history at times. Like, I love the work of Geri Pilgrim. She’s a site-specific practitioner, she’s teaches theatre design at Wimbledon, and is a designer in her own right. She creates projects where her company takes over an empty building and create an installation based on the building, using what’s there, to create an environment that the audience is led through in a group and it becomes relaxing. It’s so the opposite of Punchdrunk, although it’s an empty space that’s been designed and there’s so much detail in it, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to what we do.

JM: To go back to what you were saying about the darkness and the crescendo, for me, Punchdrunk’s work is about engaging an additional sense, a (syn)aesthetic sense, an intuitive sense that goes beyond the five senses which appreciate the general aesthetic quality of an event, and the intellectual experience of that. What Punchdrunk’s work does is engage a human awareness beyond that.

FB: Yes, yes, it’s the instinctual. Where you’re forced to add, whatever’s going on in your head, you add that into the show, you build it in.

JM: It’s both the instinctual and the imaginative. So you’re always on tenterhooks.

FB: And whatever baggage you bring, the way you read situations depends on where you are as a person at that point in time, what childhood memories you launch into it.

JM: Could you talk in more detail about the different ways in which you play with the senses, and why it is that you want to manipulate the sensual experience of the audience? That’s something that’s so clearly identifiable within the Punchdrunk aesthetic.

FB: Part of it goes back to the empowerment of the audience. A lot of it is to do with deconstructing – when we were originally doing straight plays it was much more evident, we’d condense the text so, for example, Caliban goes off stage left in a traditional proscenium arch theatre production, the actor playing him goes to the green room, waits for his next scene, comes back on again, in sporadic bursts, but in the Punchdrunk format there’s no respite, we fill in all the gaps. So you, the audience, see what happens when Prospero leaves, what Caliban does by himself in his own time. So in terms of the detail of the design, the sensory part of it, when a character opens a drawer and takes something out, like a letter, in a traditional theatre piece, the audience can never know what’s in there. You know it’s fake, and yet you’re being invited to suspend your disbelief. In terms of empowering the audience, those sensual details give the audience the chance to really become part of it. You can open the drawer, you can root around, see the pen that wrote that letter, smell the ink, just so that it intoxicates them, they become part of it and it has greater impact. A lot of it’s to do with, as you were saying, that extra sense and the power of the imagination, it’s smells, things that haunt you and flavour the experience. Like we wanted to get the smell of cut grass into a show a couple of years ago because it triggers a certain response in people. They’re all ways of drawing you in so that you go beyond suspending your disbelief and actually the show infects your mind, so once it’s over and you’ve left, and you’re on the tube back, you’re still in that same space. It’s trying to hypnotise, it’s immersion, and those elements add to that.

JM: Would you expand on Punchdrunk’s particular fusion of performance elements in terms of form; why are you so excited by this fusion, this hybridity, and is that for you key to the engagement of the senses, to this immersion? Is the concept such that you’re fusing these elements in order to draw attention to this multi-sensual, montage effect?

FB: I don’t think about those elements separately. We know there has to be this crescendo, this building up to that key moment where the experience is most heightened, and you can’t do that without all those elements coming together, in order to guarantee that the impact is as strong as it can be. And maybe that’s part of them forgetting they’re audience, they’re living it, they are it. … It’s a lot to do with sensory bombardment as well. The shows that have really touched me, like Robert Wilson’s Woyzeck, at the Barbican. I came out loving it, I couldn’t remember anything about the last hour because my brain was saturated with images from the first half hour. The impact was so potent. I suppose that’s what I’m interested in giving to our audience as well. …Even though that sounds like more is more it’s very simple devices, if anything, I spend a lot of time arguing with our sound designer that it’s too complex. One, continuous C-chord being played on the lower section of the strings, that’s all you need, the atmosphere is set. Again with the lighting designer of Faust, he wanted to use loads of lights when it didn’t need that. A single light is more refined, the clarity is there, the impact is about there only being that one element, nothing else is detracting. So although the work is made up of all these elements put together, it’s almost like only one of each to create the impact.

JM: Obviously the most vital collaboration within the process is between you and Max. I’m interested to know what why you sought out a choreographer for Sleep No More, and following on from that, why the dancing body is so important to you within the work.

FB: When [Punchdrunk] first started we used exactly the same conventions from day one as it is now, masks, free reign for the audience, sensory experience, pure darkness, pockets of light. We started in a town house, an audience capacity of fifteen, but as our events grew and the spaces got bigger and bigger and our ability to really affect an audience with the space grew. And we never wanted to spoon-feed them; we always wanted them to find the action. So if you’d been exploring a vast empty warehouse for quarter of an hour before you actually found performers, then you finally see them in the distance, and you finally get to see that scene and it’s just a duologue. When we do use text it’s always of a film persuasion it’s never theatrical, so you have to come in close, the intimacy has to be there. But it became an anti-climax – you’d finally get to see the scene, you’d finally get to the performers, but the space was more powerful than the performers and as a result the performers wouldn’t hold the attention of the audience. And although space is my passion and the audience’s movement around that and how they respond to it, it’s the performance that actually has the ultimate power, that’s the final layer. It’s the combination of those two that makes the event work. So the space was fantastic but the action wouldn’t hold the audience. So they’d get bored and wander off. I think they felt a bit cheated in a way, you’re setting up such a big environment and the action didn’t correspond. So the only way to solve that was gesture; a performance that was big enough to match the space. Also the danger element that comes in that hard, fast, staccato physicality, that’s assaulting in the same way that the spaces were.

JM: Why do you think that the physicality of the dancing body is ‘assaulting’?

FB: It’s the unpredictable again. It’s the combination of the sensitivity of the dancer - in fact, from now on I would always work with dancers, even if it were a straight acting job, because with dancers the tension extends to their fingertips - that sensitivity and that heightened naturalism, that slight off kilter pace of the dance that fits with the world created. So it’s that coupled with a bold, athleticism. It’s like a super power. I hope that the audience feel that they have a childlike curiosity as they explore, and you feel you’re going further then you should do, so when you come across performers, you want them to be like gods. So you can lose yourself in them, revere them, so they become these all-powerful creatures. So suddenly there’s this physicality and power and that technical ability that they have. I think that worked so well in Sleep No More because I was totally new to it. When we were doing the fight scene between Macbeth and Banquo, it was more about the power moves of these two men, and it was more than just a stage fight, it was the testosterone and the shapes they could build, and the sheer sight of a young adult, male pushing himself to the absolute extent of his ability.

JM: So there’s something there about the body being more eloquent, more immediate than words. And, in terms of your audience experience, it’s another security blanket being taken away.

FB: Also, I’ve said a lot about empowering the audience, but that element empowers the performers. They become mystical and magical if they don’t speak, they always have that higher ground.

JM: You talked about only wanting to work with dancers now, is that because they are particularly able to communicate with their bodies? And is that for you what allows that heightened, embodied perception in the audience; because dancers are performers who have a greater sensitivity to that, to tapping into that?

FB: Yeah, very much so. It’s also because they’re more truthful, which goes back to the audience existing within the event and going beyond the suspension of disbelief. Also, the performers are scrutinised for three hours, there’s no respite. It’s impossible almost to remove their personality from some element of that; actors always seem to have to force it slightly, they learn to build the barriers, building a character. Dancers don’t do that. So we cast in such a way that their natural persona has to fit with the character so they are the character.

JM: What Punchdrunk do in particular is touch people.

FB: Rather than being for the intellectual, for the brain, Punchdrunk is for the body. And that comes down to atmosphere. We spend months trying to create an atmosphere that engulfs an audience, so you can’t avoid being sucked into it.

JM: I think it goes beyond atmosphere, it’s about experience.

FB: When we first started we were Punchdrunk Theatrical Experiences. I still have it on my email signature. I felt since day one that that’s what we’re offering that’s what it is.

JM: I’d like to bring you back to one idea in particular that you’ve referred to and is stated on your website, the idea of play being crucial; the idea of curiosity, and discovery and adventure being crucial to the event. But it’s actually ludic; play that is spontaneous, dangerous, inherently subversive, and that to me underpins Punchdrunk work.

FB: I totally agree. It’s the same as when you’re little the games that you want to play are the ones you’re not allowed to and that’s where the thrill comes from. Punchdrunk events are just building a grown up playground in which audiences can relive that. When play is safe, it’s not as much fun.

JM: Although your work does establish safety nets for the audience. They can be as safe or as dangerous as they want to be.

FB: Exactly. We never want to alienate the audience. It’s always about them. If they want to push it then it’s there to be pushed, we can accommodate that. If they want to stay on the safe path, the beaten track then they can do and it will be just as rewarding an experience.

JM: And the audience members that it really doesn’t work for, those that spoil it, don’t get it, are those people who resist playing, who don’t want to wear their masks. Something else I like about Punchdrunk, which follows on from that is the audience become a community, a community of individuals, but individuals who want to share an experience.

FB: We’ve had a number of criticisms in the past, saying that theatre is about building a community, the audience as a group who are there to experience something together. And we’ve been criticised for alienating audiences by using the mask as a device. The mask allows you to work for yourself if you want to, but equally, they encourage you to feel all the more a unity because you’re all made the same.

JM: And they prevent the division between audience and performer because you actually become part of the form. In The Firebird Ball and Faust I became very aware of how the audience framed many of the sequences as they watched, they became like a beautiful sculpture, the masked, still bodies looking on, we literally became part of the architecture via those masks. So there are so many ways in which traditional divisions are being broken down.

FB: The mask is the most crucial part in a way. It gives you anonymity, you can’t be recognised by the performers, a clear division is established between audience and performers yet you’re allowed to get as close as you want. It allows you to probe further then you would do. The mask allows you to function as a voyeur, as a camera because you’re more aware of where you’re looking, what you choose to see and your peripheral vision is slightly affected. Other audience members don’t necessarily inform your experience, don’t affect it, because they become part of the space. They’re ghosts, you can forget about them. They can melt into the aesthetic or they can form walls. And they can allow you to become really selfish, to be only concerned with how you’re reacting to it. You’ve got to make decisions.

JM: You talked before about the presence of the text. Something that is really evident in your work is that you turn to meaty theatrical sources, Shakespeare, Goethe. Clearly the texts that you’re choosing are inherently complex, they have their own beauty and lyricality, and a visceral language that already exists within the writing, so I’m interested in the fact that you then choose to take that language out. Why turn to these weighty texts and what is it that you appreciate in the verbal play and those intellectual ideas?

FB: The complexity that’s in these great works and the richness of the text. The detail, the minutiae of the text is then scattered over the piece, we make that the experience so it’s a complex journey through. The reason why we use these great classics is, for a start the audience need a hook because the conventions take some getting used to. In order to empower the audience they need to feel that is a puzzle, a conundrum that they can grasp. They need to be able to piece together the history. That’s why we never write a piece from scratch, there has to be that awakening, where it clicks for each individual.

JM: Is there something that remains of the visceral quality of the language that you have responded to?

FB: Yeah, but it’s also about the time and place, the way the pentameter has an atmosphere in itself because it is so specific to that particular era. It feels as if it’s from another land, it’s otherworldly. So if you read something like Chekhov, which is a totally different time and a different balance in the writing style, but again it has a flavour to it that is, in itself, otherworldly. And it’s that atmosphere that lies within the text. We try and flush out, deconstruct and scatter that across the building, that’s why I think using a contemporary play would be quite difficult as it’s all drawing out, making that atmosphere three-dimensional.

JM: Are you saying you couldn’t work with a Beckett or a Sarah Kane pay?

FB: I’m saying that when I read [certain play-texts], I can see it and I can see it in Punchdrunk conventions. But when I read Beckett, it’s more difficult to see that.

JM: Because it only follows Beckett conventions?

FB: Yeah.

JM: You can’t deconstruct it the same way.

FB: Because in [the texts Punchdrunk choose] the language is more complex, it feels like it’s there to be opened up, you can rip it apart and look inside whereas a Kane play is quite obtuse and it’s already opened up, all over the place. Because we’re reinventing something it has to start from something precious. It’s the same with opera; I can’t wait to try that out. We’re thinking about doing something with Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. That’s a really sacred work, so how dare we manipulate it; it’s a weighty tome. But for that reason it’s perfect, it will be fascinating to crawl up inside it and find what the first clarinet does all the way through.

JM: It’s like you’re viewing it in the same way that you talked about Shakespeare’s work, in terms of the rhythm of the language, because Bach’s work is intensely mathematical, he was also a mathematician, and it’s like you’re breaking down those formulae. You’re responding to something in the form itself that you also want to tear apart.

FB: When it’s quite regimented then it’s easier to find the vignettes within it.

JM: Also the idea of the canon, picking up a moment and following it through and feeling it become something different at any point.

FB: That’s totally Punchdrunk, it’s taking a couple of simple themes and they become omnipresent, wherever you go there are variations upon a theme, all over the building.

JM: That deconstructive idea that a certain element becomes something different at any moment, yet it’s original form also always remains present, a trace. … Can you also talk about the other stimuli that are present in the work, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Edward Hopper? In particular the particular film aesthetic that you turn to. Are they intended simply as a playful comparison or is there something within those sources that you’re responding to? For example, I think that David Lynch films are highly visceral, so is it something experiential, not just thematic, that you’re turning to?

FB: Completely. We’ve tried many times to replicate his sound. They are his compositions, with [Angelo] Badalamenti. His sound design is the most impactive thing. We know in essence what the combinations are, we have the ingredients but we don’t know what the secret formula is. I completely agree, his work is totally visceral. … I’ve discovered recently, I had to do a talk about process and what our starting point was, and I realised that music is what comes first. Unless I know what the music is for key scenes, the big pieces of music that shape it, and thus I can feel it inside of me, I can’t start.

JM: So, to a certain extent, it’s soundtracks rather than films in a way.

FB: Yeah, with Sleep No More it was Bernard Hermann rather than Hitchcock that we were influenced by. It’s to do with music that I can feel it. In the same way as with the text, you read it and you can feel it. I can see it once I can hear it.

JM: And there must be some connection to be made there between space, music and dance; choreographing and composing – those languages of performance that speak to and with each other.

FB: Although the funny thing is I’m very wary of those huge bits of music, the money shots in the show, not being choreographed because it’s like overkill. The choreography works on its own and provides it’s own potency and power for that scene.

JM: That’s true, apart from the big set dance scenes; the dances occur without soundscores, they create their own sound, the impact of body against body and the body in space.

FB: It makes it more of a living world, where the performers are getting on with what they do, regardless of sound. So the times where it does click in together, makes it all the more powerful.

JM: Could you talk further about what Max has referred to as ‘the unseen words’? You mentioned earlier how we follow Caliban’s narrative; strategies that offer us access to these texts in a multidimensional way. So, let’s bring it back to working with bodies in space to reveal the unseen that exists in the text. Max has talked about the psychology of characters and being able to access that through the space in order that the ineffable is opened up, something intangible is made tangible, moments are shared, understood.

FB: The performers are the characters and they have to believe it for themselves. A large part of the process for the performers has to be experiential. So they could hypothesise about that character but it’s the first introduction to the space, where they get to explore it and ply with it and push it. To have that first childlike sense of discovery that aids them, so they get to respond in the same way as the audience, so they feel the corridors that are threatening, they find their own safe spaces. That first day we have with the cast on site is such an important tool. It let’s them build their character and leave memories all over the space, rather than just stepping in and using it as a stage. In terms of the space being able to solve the conundrums for them, we try and make sure that each character has their own space that is their home, their base. We should be able to learn as much from that space about that character, regardless of whether they’re in it or not. So I suppose, because they get to build out in that way, make it three-dimensional then they really do exist in that place, they become wholly tangible. … I think the reason why Max and I collaborate so well together is that I think about the space affecting the psychology of the audience and I don’t worry so much about the performers in that environment. Whereas that’s what Max does, what she’s fantastic at, we’re like chalk and cheese.

JM: She’s thinking about how the space affects and shapes that physical language of the dancers.

FB: For me it’s all about the audience, the performers are there as tools to accentuate the impact of that space.

JM: Is there anything new you’ve discovered in this large-scale production of Faust that you want to take further now?

FB: Yes, to do with form and structure. We realised at the end of Firebird’s Ball that it wasn’t finite enough; it needed a sense of conclusion for the audience to feel satisfied. In the early days the shows would run ad infinitum until the last member of the audience left, so it was a real world, totally controlled by the audience. Obviously, practically that doesn’t work because the poor cast become tired. So the one thing we’re getting closer to solving as a result of Faust is the need for a finite ending so that the audience can feel that they’ve got it. The most interesting thing for us with Faust was pulling everyone down to the basement for Faust’s downfall, which was the most conventional space, it’s like being in a studio in a way, and then your next door to the bar, that’s it, show over. So coaxing people in in such a way that it happens organically.

JM: And, in a way, within that discipline and structure there is a liberation. Time’s kaleidoscoping around you and you can experience the event in a completely non-linear way and then retrace steps, go back, and find that resolution.

FB: It’s the sense of completion, you get that final image. I think that means we’re getting dangerously close to conventional theatre, the idea that the curtain comes down, so it becomes less gallery, less installation and more theatre because of that structure.

JM: But you never feel that, you never feel that the curtain’s come down, you always feel that it’s still going on, it’s existing without you. … Obviously Punchdrunk’s work is being discussed in critical and academic circles now so I’d like to know your views on that. In particular what effects, if any, you think that analysis and interrogation has on the work?

FB: I think it’s crucially important in a way. For me as a practitioner, I know that the only way I can work is to rely on instinct. So it’s almost like the polar opposite, because if I think about it too much then I would question decisions. I think it’s so important that that analysis does happen elsewhere, so that the work exists in this climate. It’s fascinating, the responses that people have on different levels, from the pure, immediate response, because it is so experiential, so emotional, to the critical analysis, the deconstruction of how and why it does that. Considering that the work is all about deconstruction anyway, deconstructing a source, it stands to reason that the form then needs to be deconstructed.

JM: So the work requires something that is mutually sympathetic. A way of analysing that meets the workings of the performance, and allows that play to continue. The very act of intellectualising is entering into that play.

FB: Yes. It’s very interesting for me because I now want to go and think about some of the questions that you’ve raised, because the form is so immediate -

JM: So it’s about finding a method of analysis that holds on to that immediacy, that doesn’t destroy the work in the process of explaining it, but instead, opens it up.

FB: It’s so important that it’s about discovery, and apprehension, and destroying preconceptions. We’re really wary about any publicity for the show. More and more people are hearing about what it’s like so they may come with preconceptions of the show. It can’t become formulaic.

JM: The practice and the thinking around that practice must always expand, must never close itself off.

FB: It’s like, the press that really get it, don’t say much in their reviews about what it is.

JM: No, you’re right, they talk about feeling, the effect that the piece had on them, using words like ‘intoxication’.

FB: And those that just list everything the saw don’t say anything about what they felt, which just seems peculiar and a bit wrong and it just undermines what we’re all about.

Links: http:www.punchdrunk.org.uk

Punchdrunk’s latest event is The Masque of the Red Death at Battersea Arts Centre, London. September 2007 onwards. See the above link for details.

Felix Barrett

Felix Barrett is Artistic Director of Punchdrunk.

Josephine Machon

Josephine set up the Physical Theatre Programme at St. Mary’s College, Twickenham and has recently joined the academic team at Brunel University. She has co-edited Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity (2006) with Susan Broadhurst and is in the process of writing (Syn)aesthetics – Towards a Definition of Visceral Performance. Her current practice is concerned with the playful encounters that exist between the body, text, space and technologies. Josephine is Sub-Editor for Body, Space & Technology.



Felix Barrett
Josephine Machon





Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


File Checksums (MD5)

  • HTML: 4051fe3593f6e453143e100a61cb6390