Sunday, January 13, 2008

Masque of the Red Death, devised by Punchdrunk, 10-Jan-2008

It is extremely difficult to make any pretence about writing a review for this (not that I claim to review) as I only managed to see one complete scene played out in front of me in almost two hours of wandering through darkened corridors and empty rooms. I'm fairly sure that I went everywhere I could go but I just kept missing things. I occasionally encountered actors in the middle of something but at the time I assumed I wouldn't be able to follow what they were doing so I would move on.
Clearly this was a mistake, clearly I'm a fool, please feel free to laugh at me for missing a major theatrical highlight. I got so frustrated and bored at wandering around missing things – feeling as though I was at a great party that was happening wherever I was not – that I left early. Another mistake as apparently they do try to make sure that everyone sees the finale and the finale is reportedly wonderful.
I thought when I went that I'd be cool with all the nonlinear story telling and lack of formal structure and narrative and I like to think I would have been, if I'd seen anything. I can blame myself for much of this: I was impatient, moving on if I encountered one of the empty rooms instead of lingering, appreciating the attention to detail and soaking up the atmosphere, giving the actors time to turn up and do something or even following them. As for the partial scenes I witnessed (and I only saw about half a dozen) most of the time I arrived at the end of a scene or at a point where the actors were intensely concentrating on doing nothing. I also saw a bit in the bar including a mind-reading trick which was impressive until I remembered the Jonathan Creek episode where I’d seen it explained.
While in admitting this I'm likely to provoke laughter and have people pointing at me in the street, looking round the web it looks like I'm not the only one who saw very little action (maybe not as little though). If there are a number of people with a similar experience then Punchdrunk probably ought to shoulder some of the blame. I’m not sure it should be possible to do it wrong.
As I journeyed home I couldn't help comparing it to non-linear computer games (and I've spent half my working life in the computer games industry). The problem with offering people a 'sandbox' where they can go anywhere and do anything they want is that after a while they feel that they've been everywhere and done everything and they stop playing the game. To get round this – without going with a completely linear game which players hate more - game designers plant clues and create quests so that players have something to do if they get bored with wandering. Another thing that game designers try is to create training levels where the player learns the strategies most likely to be rewarding often while trying not to make it look like a training level. I did wonder if Punchdrunk wouldn't benefit from a bit of game design training, if only to be able to deal with those malcontents like me, playing the loser version of their game.
I also remembered that we were given a quest as we entered the building (you had to ask about a golden bean or was it a mask), and that I'd not paid it sufficient attention.
Looking around the web afterwards I came across the West End Whinger's advice about getting the most enjoyment out of the piece and had I read it beforehand I might have enjoyed myself much more.

1 comment:

Interval Drinks said...

Your experience pretty much mirrors mine. The space looked amazing but I only saw a couple of scenes in full and kept coming in at the end of things, which eventually became frustrating.

Ian Shuttleworth was saying, that while they encourage you to explore on your own, you also need to know when to follow the crowd to really get the most out of this.

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