Punchdrunk's Production of Goethe's Faust supported by the National Theatre is amazing.
We arrived early (6pm) via the antiquated, soon to be re-built, East London underground line
and decided to take a Pizza Express in Wapping Lane before the play.
While Mrs maytrees was ordering the pizza I ventured out to find the "theatre" and collect our tickets.
No. 21 is a huge derelict looking warehouse marked "Dangerous Structure Keep Out".
The main gates were padlocked shut, topped with barbed wire and a notice proclaiming
that a security company was on site. There was no theatre or box office sign of any sort.
Upon closer inspection I saw sellotaped to the gate, a small piece of paper announcing
simply; "sold out - ticket collection from 7pm". This slightly reassured me so I hastened back
to join mrs maytrees.
The Wapping Lane Pizza Express is also situate in a warehouse
but rather more modern looking than that at number 21. A glass or two of their
house red washed the pizzas down well and their Jazz pianist also warmed
us up nicely for Faust.
By 7:15pm the forbidding looking iron barred gates of no. 21 were open.
We began to appreciate that this might be a drama with a difference when
we were asked by young people hoping to go to the show,
if we would like to sell our tickets. Also most of the people
heading through the goods yard seemed a lot younger than us may be their average age
of under 30. Later we realised that clambering around the six floors of
old warehouse was probably not what the more middle aged, middle class
theatre goer might appreciate most.
We eventually found the goods entrance to the warehouse which had been
converted into a makeshift theatre lobby. Admissions were limited to groups of
about 10 people at a time. First port of call was a full sized bar with a small stage
on which there were a number of musicians playing. This it turned out had nothing to do with the drama at all but was a
place to come to for time out or to debrief after the main event.
Another reason for so many young people in the 'audience' might have been the fact that
this live music venue remained open well after the end of the Faustian dramatics
themselves. This is a show that is published mainly by word of mouth.
We were all required to wear white ghost masks
then were ushered into the old Tobacco Docks goods lift.
The 'lift attendant' spilled people
off the lift at different floors usually in near darkness - some six vast floors in all.
We were given carte blanche to roam at will; to stay in one place for a while
or to follow actors around, as the whim took us. The actors were not masked,
which was helpful as the whole place was eryily dark and working out who the
actors were might otherwise have been difficult.
As I moved around rooms
corridors and staircases of the warehouse space,
players would appear and enact small cameo dramas
or hugely mesmorising big set pieces or dances; then vanish or wander off followed
in some cases by members of the audience curious to see
where the next thread of an interesting piece of plot would lead.
Sometimes there would be music sometimes quiet.
A scene which made a huge impact on me was a dance depicting the human traits
of love, jealousy, envy, lust and beauty, which took place in
a mock up caberet stage on the third floor, involving a dozen or so members of the cast
watched by the 20 or so of us souls whose ramblings happened to take us
to that place on that floor at that time.
Another cameo piece took
place in a small corridor involving two
very well dressed men, a pretty girl and alarge aluminium locker...
and another in a mock up
hotel bedroom. Yet another in a forest of Christmas trees and as for
the events in the basement...
Phew! words cannot do justice to this a unique theatrical experience.