Red Death Lates

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Time Out investigates eccentric theatre company Punchdrunk‘s decadent take on the after-show bash

  • ‘Interactive theatre’ just doesn’t get near to describing Punchdrunk’s sublime and surreal ‘The Masque of the Red Death’. During three hours of wandering in low-lit, atmospheric and decrepit ruins with their vision hindered by masks, the audience discovers Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic tale, in which Prince Prospero attempts to hide from the plague sweeping the country by locking his favourite people in his castle and, one night, holding a masquerade ball. By the same token, ‘after-party’ doesn’t remotely do justice to Red Death Lates, the post-show event every Friday and Saturday.

    A few performers still in costume, swanning around and chatting to the audience? Hardly. The show simply goes on, as Kate Hargreaves, of in-house party hosts Gideon Reeling, explains: ‘The “Masque” is a great starting point to build a party from. A select group have been holed up in the Prince’s palace for months to escape the ravages of a virulent plague and the party is said to have much of the bizarre and the wanton about it. The audience has time for a drink or two and a little pleasant conversation before they are plunged into the final scene from the main show. This final scene runs straight into the party where the audience may dance with zebras or birds, fight for their dearest possessions with a Mexican wrestler, contract the red death in the mistress of the boudoir’s parlour, have their chakras rebalanced, visit the travelling freakshow – if they can find it – or be treated by the quack doctor.’

    Sound overwhelming? Not a bit. It’s more like being in the performance party equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The performers change each week and it’s part of the fun that they’re not announced beforehand, says Punchdrunk’s Joana Seguro: ‘Some nights there’s a full Scottish ceilidh and East End trendies are made to barn dance with a horse, other nights have been a 1940s swing dance; we have contortionists and burlesque dancers.’ With ten or more post-show performers wandering among the audience during the initial show itself, it can often be hard to tell who is the audience and who isn’t. ‘Exactly’, says Seguro. ‘People get really excited and make an enormous effort. Men dress up in Victorian tuxedos, and the girls do wonderful things with their hair. On New Year’s Eve, we set a dress code of ‘pairs and double-acts’. We had a couple turn up as a pair of socks. I remember dancing with a couple of Supermen. It’s difficult to work out – are you just having fun or are you deliberately trying to entertain me?’

    However, putting on two very different shows a week for many months is exhausting. Promoters work months in advance on just one interactive performance. So while ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ will continue until April 12, Red Death Lates will run twice-weekly only until February 1. ‘We’ll do several dates before the show finishes,’ says Seguro. ‘And then everyone will go into a sanatorium to get their strength back.’

    Speaking of things health-related, Hargreaves still wonders about a prescription given to one young audience member. ‘Our own Miss Bird appointed herself as a physician one evening, and this mystery girl presented herself as a patient with the peculiarity of being unable to say certain consonant sounds. Miss Bird sent her off into the Christmas period expressly forbidden to use the letters M or P. I would love to know how she got on.’

    Red Death Lates is on every Friday and Saturday at the BAC until February 1.
    The Masque of the Red Death is at the BAC until April 12.

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