Immersive theatre; Punchdrunk

Today tickets for renowned immersive theatre company Punchdrunk’s new production were released to the sound of a silent, remarkably fast and orderly website queueing system run by the National Theatre. The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable is the company’s first large-scale immersive production since the hit that was The Masque of the Red Death at Battersea Arts Centre. Their work is described as “theatrical adventures” and this production is the biggest yet. Staged in a secret disused central London venue as big as three football pitches, the voyeuristic viewer will promenade for approximately three hours through a world that blends reality and illusion. This world is that of dreams on celluloid, the Hollywood film industry, and it’s inspired by Georg Buchner’s surreal masterpiece Woyzeck. 

Now here’s the thing; tickets will set you back £39. Minimum (that’s if you want a guaranteed ticket, as there are a small number of £19.50 tickets for concessions released every Monday from 24th June for shows that week – I failed to see this information prior to booking and it wasn’t on the actual booking form).

So the question is this; is immersive theatre such as this – which is seeming to become a large part of theatre’s future – actually as, if not even more, exclusive than its traditional proscenium arched or thrust staged counterparts?

In immersive theatre the theatrical world is all around you, the audience is placed inside the theatre – something that at first glance may seem like the best possible way to engage people in theatre. These prices, however, are slightly more than the cheapest tickets for an average West End production and a lot more than, for example, Travelex tickets for shows at the National Theatre. Yes, the overheads for such a production must be supremely high but if this is the future of theatre then it’s certainly an expensive and elitist seeming one. Who, if they had never been to the theatre before and were put off by its pretentiousness, would pay £39 to wander around (probably occasionally in the dark) without much of a clue what was happening?

Reading this I realise it must seem I’m against this production, and I’m not – I have a ticket for September and I will be very excited when the day comes. However, my desire to buy this ticket was fuelled by my addiction to theatre. I can’t really afford it (them, actually, I bought two) but I know it will be one of the theatrical events of the year and I simply can’t miss it (insert ironic ‘darling’ here), which is my point entirely. Theatre is my drug and for me this is just one pure crystallised dose of it in a form that doesn’t come around that often, but does theatre need to already be your drug for you to choose this? Or, does the exciting experience offered by such theatrical adventures actually work to entice a less generic theatre going crowd in?

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