Text by: Ava Davies / 撰文：Ava Davies
Translated by: Zhao Kunfang / 翻譯：趙坤芳
Fusing installation art, physical and site-specific theatre, Punchdrunk are the world’s most recognisable immersive theatre company. Set up in 2000 by Felix Barrett, the troupe has garnered a huge following and spawned multiple lookalike companies which seek to emulate their global success.
Though no Punchdrunk show can ever be the same as another, there are certain recurring elements in each production which characterise the nature of the company. They take ‘site-specific’ theatre to a new level, occupying several tens of thousands of square feet by using disused warehouses, factory spaces and town halls to create an adult-orientated ‘haunted house’ feel to their promenade productions. These spaces are outfitted by the production team to an unbelievable degree, creating forests, lunatic asylums, sweet shops and nightclubs in different rooms which the audience can explore themselves. There are narratives to their shows, which blend classic texts such as ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ with contemporary physical performance, and actors play out these stories across the entirety of the space, darting from room to room and enticing a mask-clad audience along with them. But the real draw of Punchdrunk productions is the audience’s ability to forge their own narrative. The white masks given out at the beginning of every production grants every audience member a sense of anonymity and a renewed sense of fearlessness. You can break away from the crowds and rifle through desk drawers, finding an intricately detailed handwritten love letter which casts fresh light on the story, or even be pulled away by one of the performers for a one-to-one session; a simultaneously unnerving and exhilarating experience. And whenever you want to leave the show, you can, though it is rare for people leave after less than an hour. This is where Punchdrunk excels: in their acknowledgement of a theatre-going audience’s inherent inquisitiveness.
暈眩劇團的每一個作品，都顯示出他們與衆不同的品味，他們將”體驗式劇場”的演出模式運用到了一個新的高度，比如利用幾千平米的廢棄工廠或是市政大廳來創造一個鬼屋似的空間來進行演出。暈眩劇團將這些空間佈置成令人難以置信的環境，觀眾們可以在這些搭建出來的森林、精神病院、糖果店或者夜總會之間遊走並追尋自我。在他們的作品中，空間在表現戲劇的同時也結合了經典劇本的文本，比如現代肢體劇《麥克白（Macbeth）》和《馬爾菲公爵夫人（The Duchess of Malfi）》，觀眾們佩戴者面具來觀看穿梭在各個場景之中演員的表演。但是，暈眩劇團真正的創舉是帶領觀眾們創造了屬於每個觀眾自己獨有的故事線索和觀看體驗。在每次的演出開始之前，觀眾們都會帶上白色的面具，在整部演出當中，觀眾都會沈浸在一種匿名與無畏的感受當中。你可以脫離人群去整個環境中遊蕩，也許你打開了一個抽屜，而裡面找到的一封手寫情書也許會對整個故事起到至關重要的作用；你也可以忽略演員的對白而去尋找更令人興奮的體驗；當然你也可以隨時離開，不過很少有觀眾會在開場一個小時以內離開。這是暈眩劇團最擅長的部份──他們會牢牢抓住觀眾的好奇心。
Passivity is not an option in a Punchdrunk show; and although it’s true that quietly watching actors and the narrative in a linear fashion gives a better sense of the story as a whole, striking out on your own allows the audience to embrace the immersive spirit of the piece. Disorientation is, after all, key to the Punchdrunk experience. One of their first shows, ‘The Moonslave’, was built for one audience member only and involved a ringing telephone in an empty village hall that called to be answered, a chauffeur-driven car for the participant and two hundred terrifying scarecrows in a field. They are intimidating productions to say the least, but prove themselves well worth the initial fear. Certainly, their productions have on several occasions been compared to video games where an unsuspecting hero is dropped in the middle of an unfamiliar but hostile environment and has to find their way out. Punchdrunk is admittedly more ‘high art’ than this, but by tapping into that childish instinct of ‘playing pretend’, they have clearly struck gold with their audiences who are eager for more.
The popularity of Punchdrunk became apparent during the 2013/2014 production ‘The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable’, the run of which was extended due to the immense reputation of the London-based show. In their biggest ever venue (at the former Royal Mail sorting offices in Paddington) and with their biggest ever cast (stretching to forty performers), and with two parallel plots both based around the tragic love story of ‘Woyzeck’, Punchdrunk at this point arguably stretched themselves too thin, alienating critics for its lack of heart though applauded for its boundless ambition. Audiences, however, flocked to it in their droves.
But the question for Punchdrunk now is whether or not these pieces contain real thought-provoking ideas, or if they are simply populist excuses for an audience to lose themselves in another world for a few hours. Their longevity hopefully suggests that they are no one-trick pony, and we can only wait for their next production to see if they embrace a more oblique form of theatre whilst maintaining their astounding audience numbers and dazzling spectacle.
暈眩劇團的名聲大噪是因為其2013/14年的作品《溺水者：好萊塢預言（The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable）》，作品廣受觀眾好評。這個作品他們使用了整個倫敦頓皇家郵局大樓，動用了40人的演出陣容，並以《沃伊采克（Woyzeck）》中的兩個愛情故事作為故事主線。有一些評論家稱此劇”擁有雄心壯誌的嘗試，但作品缺少實質的內容”，儘管如此，此劇卻獲得了眾多觀眾的喜愛，因為觀眾人數越來越多，此劇在倫敦不得不一再加演。