Last night Mtnz and I descended into Punchdrunk/The Old Vic’s gloom-sodden collabarynth off the South Bank near Waterloo.
I get a lot of clicks from fans of Metropolis on this blog; if this includes you then you absolutely must come and immerse yourself in this experience when it returns in the Autumn. A creative installation comprising theatrical performance, set in a doomed post-future honeycomb of tunnels, 228 takes inspiration from Fritz Lang’s vision to create an immersive work of art that asks you to question authority, class, privelige and privation in a beautifully cinematic environment. You’re given a surgical facemask and directed into the dark, led by sensational lighting that changes unannounced (or worse, prefigured by threatening rumbles of 19th Century machinery), confounding performance setpieces (a man walks across the ceiling to lay flowers on a casket, a bearded Teuton strides inside a hamster wheel, a mine worker checks over his friend’s corpse), sculpture (Slinkachu’s breath-stifling miniature bingo halls and empty Hopper-esque supermarkets floodlit by LEDs, a convulsion of bird feathers knotted under glass), and, if you’re lucky and you look for it, some curious encounters. We reached a door as a woman left it, clucking about how she’d been questioned, told off, sat down and interrogated by some shady characters. I knocked on the door.
A man opened it – he looked like a headmaster with ball-ache. I tried to argue my way inside when he denied us entry. Then I questioned why he wasn’t wearing a mask. He locked the door, told me he didn’t need a mask and that we should all leave. Then he slinked off, muttering that something horrible was about to happen and that the whole place was condemned. There were other rooms with lifelike mannequins, waiting, dead, drunk – who knows. A coffin bursting at the seams with starling chicks, a well with high definition grey bodies on display like rotiserrie chicken. You had to stoop to spy in on the bolt-studded rusty tank with a man and a woman inside, sharing the remaining air as their prison filled up with water.
We probably spent less than an hour inside but it felt like two or three. With no clear path, few rules and delightfully unenlightening invigilators, Punchdrunk encourage participants to wander, lose themselves, find unlit corners, push open doors and set machinery in motion to create their own experience. One of the most impressive artefacts in this dramatic subterranean exhibition was a live performance by two mechanized metal probes, performing an unlicensed operation on a fur-lined chair, with music, glowing TV screens and odd robotic acccompaniment. Finally we’d investigated everything, seen some things twice, and were ready to steal out into the permanent dusk of Banksy’s graffiti tunnel on Leake Street. If I have any complaint about this engrossing experience it’s that I have to wait months until it returns. If you’ve booked a place, give yourself at least an hour to wander around, prod things, question authority and challenge your fear of the dark.
Thanks to the Guardian.co.uk for the photos. Go on guys, give yourselves a big hand.