phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Advertisement
Perou

Finding a physical performance language: Punchdrunk’s Maxine Doyle

7 June 2013 Charlie Kenber

Punchdrunk are quickly becoming one of the major forces in British theatre, with their immersive, promenade experiences selling out across the world. Ahead of their latest show, we catch up with co-director and choreographer Maxine Doyle

The opening of Punchdrunk’s latest show The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable can honestly be said to be one of the most exciting theatrical events of the year. It is their first project in London of this scale for several years, following a spell producing work in America. Precious few details are known about the nature of the show – even the venue, a vast disused building next to Paddington Station remained a secret until last month – but if earlier projects are anything to go by it’s sure to be a cracker. Indeed, Punchdrunk are quickly becoming a major force in British theatre: to which the National Theatre’s co-production of this project is testament.

But what exactly can we expect from this latest show? The story is based on Georg Büchner’s 19th century play Woyzeck, which as Maxine Doyle, co-director and choreographer on the production tells us, essentially introduced the beginnings of expressionism, a whole century before the movement started. The company have framed Woyzeck’s narrative with Nathanael West’s 1939 novel The Day of the Locust, with its themes of the inside and outside of Hollywood, status exploitation and jealousy.

“It is obsessive jealousy that hangs at the centre point of the play,” Maxine explains. “With my choreographer’s hat on it is really poetic and rich in images, which gives us really good fuel for the choreography. I’m always interested in emotional danger and human behaviour, relationships that are very dysfunctional. The extremes of love and desire, obsession and madness make it really juicy material.”

The text also lends itself very well to a promenade performance, in which it is far harder to convey consistent narrative than in a traditional play. “The audience has free choice to roam and pick out their own narrative,” Maxine agrees. “You very quickly have to relinquish offering one point of view, and instead offer multiple possibilities of framing.” Woyzeck’s story can effectively be manipulated to this end, in fact the play was still in a very fractional state when Büchner died in 1837, and had to be heavily reworked decades later. “There is something about its fragmented, non-linear narrative,” Maxine affirms. “It doesn’t matter which order you play the scenes in the play. They are cumulatively dramatic.”

This does not mean that the narrative has been abandoned, but instead the performance, as with a number of Punchdrunk’s previous productions, achieves a more dream-like quality. Although there is a linear narrative presented in successive order, the audience has to find the scenes, and therefore in all likelihood views them in a scattered manner. ‘We have two Woyzeck’s, one male and one female. The audience might come across him at the end when murdering his wife, or they might meet another character. The experience is really fractured and dream-like. We let go of forcing a linear narrative on the audience, instead they have to dig it out themselves.”

This quality is something of a trademark in Punchdrunk’s work. “We offer all possibilities: atmosphere, tension, light and dark, and encourage the audience to involve themselves, to go to what interests them, excites or turns them on.” Ultimately it is the experience that is most important. “We consider the whole event, and put the audience at the heart of that. Our aim is to control the atmosphere, to shake you out of your comfort zone, to get you to forget your daily worries. We want to place theatre in a context so that it feels like an event, and the building is always the driving force.”

This is the impact that the company hope to have on their audience. Maxine tells us “I would hope each person felt they’d experienced something very different than their friend or loved one, that feels very unique to them. I hope that they leave feeling bombarded by a host of sensory delights and images that they don’t forget, that stay with them forever. It’s always about a combination of light, dark, atmosphere, design, character and journey. We try to reach a crescendo: something visceral that hits you in your belly. There’s a feeling of danger, magic and sensuality that permeates our approach to all our work.”

To achieve this, their process involves several factors working in parallel, from designing and choosing a building and deciding how to absorb it into the world of the play, to finding a dance language. This aspect of choreography is where Maxine really comes into her element. With a background in dance (she ran her own company before joining Punchdrunk), she has also worked on Young Vic productions for the last two winter seasons, as choreographer. “You go along and do your bit, it becomes a small part of something bigger.” She finds Punchdrunk shows more fulfilling however, due to the centrality of choreography, “Punchdrunk is my work: physical performance language is its heartbeat, that drives it. I think that dance and the human body can stand up to architecture in a way words can’t.”

A Drowned Man is the company’s first production on this scale in London for five years, and Maxine is happy to be returning to the capital. “The show feels a bit like a homecoming for us, as we’ve been doing a lot of work in the states. It feels amazing to do work on this scale in our home city: there is something about having a building in the middle of west London which feels exciting and dramatic.”

Punchdrunk then look set to continue their winning ways, making work that is at once provocative, explosively imaginative and truly thrilling. Maxine similarly sees a big future for the company, “Punchdrunk’s vision has the potential to really do something on a large scale. Dance can be quite inward-looking, its ambition small, its audience elite. I was never interested in making work for an elite audience. I want to cross boundaries, to make something that works on many different levels and for many different types of people.” With The Drowned Man it seems this aim really will be realised. Truly a show you do not want to miss.

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable opens on June 20th and is booking until the end of the year. Tickets are available here.

Advertisement

Most popular

Where to Eat: Cheese Restaurants in London

Where to Eat: Cheese Restaurants in London

Warning: the following feature will contain many a cheese pun. They might not be very Gouda. See, we did warn you.
Advertisement
A Guide to Feminist London

A Guide to Feminist London

To celebrate International Women's Day, here are some places from which women can draw female inspiration and strength
Advertisement
Where to Drink: Wine Bars in London

Where to Drink: Wine Bars in London

Our favourite spots in London for praisin' the raisin
Advertisement
The Best Poetry and Spoken Word Events in London

The Best Poetry and Spoken Word Events in London

Whether you're performing on stage or watching your faves, we've got the lowdown on the best places for a poetry fix
Advertisement
Win cocktails for two at the Gherkin!

Win cocktails for two at the Gherkin!

Grab a friend, lover or your mother and head up to the very top of a London landmark to do some drinking in style.
Theatre Top Picks of the Week

Theatre Top Picks of the Week

Where to get the best of new theatre openings in London
London’s Best Florists

London’s Best Florists

For the coolest, most creative, luxurious blooms around
Museum and Gallery Top Picks of the Week

Museum and Gallery Top Picks of the Week

The place to come for all the best current exhibitions in London...
Top Five Museums and Exhibitions Combining Science and Art

Top Five Museums and Exhibitions Combining Science and Art

When science and art meet they can illuminate the other with a light brighter than a thousand bunsen burners
Win a £50 bar tab at Number 90’s 5th birthday party!

Win a £50 bar tab at Number 90’s 5th birthday party!

Win a boozy bonanza at one of the biggest parties of the year

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!

Advertisement