; Felix Barrett - Interview Felix Barrett Friday Feb 2007 BAC
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Felix Barrett - Interview Felix Barrett Friday Feb 2007 BAC


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									Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                             1

Felix Barrett in discussion with Josephine Machon: Friday Feb 2* 2007 BAC

I began by reminding Felix of one of my students who, when discussing her response to
Punchdrunk’s Faust, became frustrated by the fact that she couldn’t find the verbal
language to articulate her experience. I clarified that (syn)aesthetics was my attempt to
find an academic approach to discussing such work; a method of analysis that embraces
the fact that such work is challenging to talk about in its very taxonomy.

JM: Following on from a discussion that I had with Max[ine Doyle] about Punchdrunk’s
ethos I’d like to know what your intentions were when you first set out to create work,
and what concepts emerged that you see as defining Punchdrunk’s work.

FB: The key thing originally was to empower the audience. It struck me that I was doing
a drama degree but I didn’t really enjoy going to the theatre because it felt too self
indulgent, it wasn’t for the audience; the conventions of going to the theatre are such
that you rush in, invariably late, find your seat still panting and then you endure a first
half and, irrespective of whether you like it or not, you sit there in silence, you observe,
you praise and then you have the interval and so on. The formula’s all there, and then
you queue to get a drink and finally you get there and then the bell goes and you have to
go back in. It’s too familiar, too structured. And because of this familiarity, it kind of stops
you responding to it because, before you go in, you know what it’s going to be like.
Obviously the performance is different each time, and then when you come out you
might chat about it for a little bit and then you go for a drink and your conversation
changes to something else and you forget about it, as if it never really existed, because
you compartmentalise it into ‘theatre’. So what I was interested in doing was to totally
empower the audience, make the audience the epicentre of the work, which is what it
should be, so they can control it. It also has a lot to do with impact. I was finding a lot of
stuff that I was seeing was disappointing, and, in fact, my mum, when she cut back on
her hours at work and made a decision to go and see loads of theatre and spent a year
going to the theatre three times a week seeing everything that was on and it was a wash
of mediocrity. The experiences were fine but nothing special and she’d just forget them.
And so my aim was, coupled with empowering the audience, was to strive to get
something that smacks them in the guts, strives for a visceral impact, and thus an
equivalent memory, so that it lives with you; it’s a real experience, that becomes
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                             2

anecdotal. It’s yours, you own it, you carve your way through it, you created your own
evening and it stays with you.

JM: That visceral impact is fundamental to a (syn)aesthetic approach.

FB: It’s really key to what we do.

JM: Would you define what the visceral is for you in terms of the performance

FB: It’s the sense of unease, it’s the fact that your comfort zone is removed, you don’t
know what to do. If you don’t move it’s not going to come to you, you have to go there.
Doing that, you’ve got the fear, you’ve got the adrenalin, you can feel it, you can feel the
temperature, you can sense that you’re part of the show. It’s the unease coupled with
the excitement that you’re in control. And there are so many devices we use to aid that
from the smells to the use of bass.

JM: Max talked to me about the fact that your concept is very much about space and
form and respecting the audience, placing them at the epicentre. Max talked about the
liveness of space, or specifically the life of the space, that she felt that you saw and
accessed. Would you talk a little more about that idea?

FB: I was very interested early on in installation, just as a word. I didn’t use it as an art-
world definition but more to define space that is inherently theatrical and yet has no
performance within it; meaning that it’s a space that you walk into and something hits
you. There’s an impact, you feel something and it creates some sort of emotional
response. I’m a firm believer that every space you go into is saying something; there are
echoes in the walls. All we do as a company is draw those out. Compare the most
sterile, white cube arts space, which has very little obvious presence, with a Victorian
crumbling mansion, which has a whole history which you can see in its walls and feel it
in the humidity. It’s about making that theatrical, letting that wash over you, so that that
triggers the audience’s imagination.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                            3

JM: So in that respect, what happens if the space where the Punchdrunk event finally
occurs wasn’t initially the one that you had hoped to work the piece in? 21 Wapping
Lane, for example, wasn’t your initial choice for Faust.

FB: We’ve never done a show in the space that I first wanted. Max always gets slightly
frustrated with this but I really have to work this way, because it’s the space that builds
the show. With Faust I limited myself to a one sentence pitch of what the show was;
Faust, Goethe, little bit of Marlowe, with a starting point of the blues legend of Robert
Johnson. Beyond that, until we’d actually found the space I wouldn’t let myself imagine
anything else. I wanted to get a hospital space for it because I thought, dramaturgically,
that would open up a whole new layer; it’s his imagination. We happened upon a
psychiatric ward in Goodge Street, which would have been absolutely fantastic. But
wherever the space is informs the piece. However, we’ve never been able to pick, it’s
simply the size of the space that’s important because the audience need to get lost if
they want to, they need to be able to lose themselves in the building. And it needs to be
big enough to instil that sense of panic, so that at times they can feel out of control; this
can’t be safe, it can’t be legal. One thing I always bang on about is that, even if we did a
family show, we’d still need that nerve-racking entrance, because you need to reach that
point as you’re entering that your comfort zone is removed, there’s a danger, the
adrenalin’s coursing through your veins so that your synapses are firing so that any
sensory stimuli we then give to you, the audience, you’ll receive it tenfold. The impact’s
greater and it stays with you. It’s a basic, very simple device. Cynically, I suppose you
could say that that’s why people like theme parks and Ghost Trains because it’s the
same feeling, you feel alive.

JM: And you become most aware of being in the moment.

FB: A space could be ‘made Punchdrunk’ in about half an hour of first discovering it,
black out the windows and so on, giving people those little ingredients that make up a
show, because it’s the impact of the space on the audience that establishes the show.

JM: Specifically via the way you manipulate that space? Because, to use your word,
you’ve been ‘sympathetic’ to whatever you’ve discovered in the space and brought that
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                              4

FB: It’s the crescendo; in terms of the lighting, the sound, in terms of the actual course of
the evening, it’s about the crescendo with Punchdrunk. One of our very early shows, we
were experimenting with form in an outdoor version of Oedipus and Antigone combined,
six hours over the course of a Saturday, summer’s afternoon, a beautiful garden, the
place was fantastic, brilliant design team, the installation had little pockets, little groves,
then massive woodlands and clearings; it was a joyous thing to behold. But, because it
was daytime and thus daylight, and you could the distance that you were walking
towards. Even though the detail was fantastic, little huts built of logs and so on, very
exciting, but because you could see it as you walked, when you finally arrived there,
there wasn’t that sense of discovery. So that’s what I mean by the key thing now is the
crescendo, the fact that you don’t know what’s behind the door; it’s so dark down the
end of a corridor, should you go down there and when you finally do you get that reward
because suddenly [the environment] changes, it’s constantly unpredictable, it constantly

JM: It goes beyond the aesthetic experience of the visual.

FB: Giving that experience suspense, tension. A lot of other site companies are far more
about ambience, almost a relaxing experience, like living history at times. Like, I love the
work of Geri Pilgrim. She’s a site-specific practitioner, she’s teaches theatre design at
Wimbledon, and is a designer in her own right. She creates projects where her company
takes over an empty building and create an installation based on the building, using
what’s there, to create an environment that the audience is led through in a group and it
becomes relaxing. It’s so the opposite of Punchdrunk, although it’s an empty space
that’s been designed and there’s so much detail in it, it’s at the opposite end of the
spectrum to what we do.

JM: To go back to what you were saying about the darkness and the crescendo, for me,
Punchdrunk’s work is about engaging an additional sense, a (syn)aesthetic sense, an
intuitive sense that goes beyond the five senses which appreciate the general aesthetic
quality of an event, and the intellectual experience of that. What Punchdrunk’s work
does is engage a human awareness beyond that.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                         5

FB: Yes, yes, it’s the instinctual. Where you’re forced to add, whatever’s going on in your
head, you add that into the show, you build it in.

JM: It’s both the instinctual and the imaginative. So you’re always on tenterhooks.

FB: And whatever baggage you bring, the way you read situations depends on where
you are as a person at that point in time, what childhood memories you launch into it.

JM: Could you talk in more detail about the different ways in which you play with the
senses, and why it is that you want to manipulate the sensual experience of the
audience? That’s something that’s so clearly identifiable within the Punchdrunk

FB: Part of it goes back to the empowerment of the audience. A lot of it is to do with
deconstructing – when we were originally doing straight plays it was much more evident,
we’d condense the text so, for example, Caliban goes off stage left in a traditional
proscenium arch theatre production, the actor playing him goes to the green room, waits
for his next scene, comes back on again, in sporadic bursts, but in the Punchdrunk
format there’s no respite, we fill in all the gaps. So you, the audience, see what happens
when Prospero leaves, what Caliban does by himself in his own time. So in terms of the
detail of the design, the sensory part of it, when a character opens a drawer and takes
something out, like a letter, in a traditional theatre piece, the audience can never know
what’s in there. You know it’s fake, and yet you’re being invited to suspend your
disbelief. In terms of empowering the audience, those sensual details give the audience
the chance to really become part of it. You can open the drawer, you can root around,
see the pen that wrote that letter, smell the ink, just so that it intoxicates them, they
become part of it and it has greater impact. A lot of it’s to do with, as you were saying,
that extra sense and the power of the imagination, it’s smells, things that haunt you and
flavour the experience. Like we wanted to get the smell of cut grass into a show a couple
of years ago because it triggers a certain response in people. They’re all ways of
drawing you in so that you go beyond suspending your disbelief and actually the show
infects your mind, so once it’s over and you’ve left, and you’re on the tube back, you’re
still in that same space. It’s trying to hypnotise, it’s immersion, and those elements add
to that.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                            6

JM: Would you expand on Punchdrunk’s particular fusion of performance elements in
terms of form; why are you so excited by this fusion, this hybridity, and is that for you key
to the engagement of the senses, to this immersion? Is the concept such that you’re
fusing these elements in order to draw attention to this multi-sensual, montage effect?

FB: I don’t think about those elements separately. We know there has to be this
crescendo, this building up to that key moment where the experience is most
heightened, and you can’t do that without all those elements coming together, in order to
guarantee that the impact is as strong as it can be. And maybe that’s part of them
forgetting they’re audience, they’re living it, they are it. … It’s a lot to do with sensory
bombardment as well. The shows that have really touched me, like Robert Wilson’s
Woyzeck, at the Barbican. I came out loving it, I couldn’t remember anything about the
last hour because my brain was saturated with images from the first half hour. The
impact was so potent. I suppose that’s what I’m interested in giving to our audience as
well. …Even though that sounds like more is more it’s very simple devices, if anything, I
spend a lot of time arguing with our sound designer that it’s too complex. One,
continuous C-chord being played on the lower section of the strings, that’s all you need,
the atmosphere is set. Again with the lighting designer of Faust, he wanted to use loads
of lights when it didn’t need that. A single light is more refined, the clarity is there, the
impact is about there only being that one element, nothing else is detracting. So
although the work is made up of all these elements put together, it’s almost like only one
of each to create the impact.

JM: Obviously the most vital collaboration within the process is between you and Max.
I’m interested to know what why you sought out a choreographer for Sleep No More, and
following on from that, why the dancing body is so important to you within the work.

FB: When [Punchdrunk] first started we used exactly the same conventions from day
one as it is now, masks, free reign for the audience, sensory experience, pure darkness,
pockets of light. We started in a town house, an audience capacity of fifteen, but as our
events grew and the spaces got bigger and bigger and our ability to really affect an
audience with the space grew. And we never wanted to spoon-feed them; we always
wanted them to find the action. So if you’d been exploring a vast empty warehouse for
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                           7

quarter of an hour before you actually found performers, then you finally see them in the
distance, and you finally get to see that scene and it’s just a duologue. When we do use
text it’s always of a film persuasion it’s never theatrical, so you have to come in close,
the intimacy has to be there. But it became an anti-climax – you’d finally get to see the
scene, you’d finally get to the performers, but the space was more powerful than the
performers and as a result the performers wouldn’t hold the attention of the audience.
And although space is my passion and the audience’s movement around that and how
they respond to it, it’s the performance that actually has the ultimate power, that’s the
final layer. It’s the combination of those two that makes the event work. So the space
was fantastic but the action wouldn’t hold the audience. So they’d get bored and wander
off. I think they felt a bit cheated in a way, you’re setting up such a big environment and
the action didn’t correspond. So the only way to solve that was gesture; a performance
that was big enough to match the space. Also the danger element that comes in that
hard, fast, staccato physicality, that’s assaulting in the same way that the spaces were.

JM: Why do you think that the physicality of the dancing body is ‘assaulting’?

FB: It’s the unpredictable again. It’s the combination of the sensitivity of the dancer - in
fact, from now on I would always work with dancers, even if it were a straight acting job,
because with dancers the tension extends to their fingertips - that sensitivity and that
heightened naturalism, that slight off kilter pace of the dance that fits with the world
created. So it’s that coupled with a bold, athleticism. It’s like a super power. I hope that
the audience feel that they have a childlike curiosity as they explore, and you feel you’re
going further then you should do, so when you come across performers, you want them
to be like gods. So you can lose yourself in them, revere them, so they become these
all-powerful creatures. So suddenly there’s this physicality and power and that technical
ability that they have. I think that worked so well in Sleep No More because I was totally
new to it. When we were doing the fight scene between Macbeth and Banquo, it was
more about the power moves of these two men, and it was more than just a stage fight,
it was the testosterone and the shapes they could build, and the sheer sight of a young
adult, male pushing himself to the absolute extent of his ability.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                          8

JM: So there’s something there about the body being more eloquent, more immediate
than words. And, in terms of your audience experience, it’s another security blanket
being taken away.

FB: Also, I’ve said a lot about empowering the audience, but that element empowers the
performers. They become mystical and magical if they don’t speak, they always have
that higher ground.

JM: You talked about only wanting to work with dancers now, is that because they are
particularly able to communicate with their bodies? And is that for you what allows that
heightened, embodied perception in the audience; because dancers are performers who
have a greater sensitivity to that, to tapping into that?

FB: Yeah, very much so. It’s also because they’re more truthful, which goes back to the
audience existing within the event and going beyond the suspension of disbelief. Also,
the performers are scrutinised for three hours, there’s no respite. It’s impossible almost
to remove their personality from some element of that; actors always seem to have to
force it slightly, they learn to build the barriers, building a character. Dancers don’t do
that. So we cast in such a way that their natural persona has to fit with the character so
they are the character.

JM: What Punchdrunk do in particular is touch people.

FB: Rather than being for the intellectual, for the brain, Punchdrunk is for the body. And
that comes down to atmosphere. We spend months trying to create an atmosphere that
engulfs an audience, so you can’t avoid being sucked into it.

JM: I think it goes beyond atmosphere, it’s about experience.

FB: When we first started we were Punchdrunk Theatrical Experiences. I still have it on
my email signature. I felt since day one that that’s what we’re offering that’s what it is.

JM: I’d like to bring you back to one idea in particular that you’ve referred to and is stated
on your website, the idea of play being crucial; the idea of curiosity, and discovery and
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                        9

adventure being crucial to the event. But it’s actually ludic; play that is spontaneous,
dangerous, inherently subversive, and that to me underpins Punchdrunk work.

FB: I totally agree. It’s the same as when you’re little the games that you want to play are
the ones you’re not allowed to and that’s where the thrill comes from. Punchdrunk
events are just building a grown up playground in which audiences can relive that. When
play is safe, it’s not as much fun.

JM: Although your work does establish safety nets for the audience. They can be as safe
or as dangerous as they want to be.

FB: Exactly. We never want to alienate the audience. It’s always about them. If they
want to push it then it’s there to be pushed, we can accommodate that. If they want to
stay on the safe path, the beaten track then they can do and it will be just as rewarding
an experience.

JM: And the audience members that it really doesn’t work for, those that spoil it, don’t
get it, are those people who resist playing, who don’t want to wear their masks.
Something else I like about Punchdrunk, which follows on from that is the audience
become a community, a community of individuals, but individuals who want to share an

FB: We’ve had a number of criticisms in the past, saying that theatre is about building a
community, the audience as a group who are there to experience something together.
And we’ve been criticised for alienating audiences by using the mask as a device. The
mask allows you to work for yourself if you want to, but equally, they encourage you to
feel all the more a unity because you’re all made the same.

JM: And they prevent the division between audience and performer because you
actually become part of the form. In The Firebird Ball and Faust I became very aware of
how the audience framed many of the sequences as they watched, they became like a
beautiful sculpture, the masked, still bodies looking on, we literally became part of the
architecture via those masks. So there are so many ways in which traditional divisions
are being broken down.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                              10

FB: The mask is the most crucial part in a way. It gives you anonymity, you can’t be
recognised by the performers, a clear division is established between audience and
performers yet you’re allowed to get as close as you want. It allows you to probe further
then you would do. The mask allows you to function as a voyeur, as a camera because
you’re more aware of where you’re looking, what you choose to see and your peripheral
vision is slightly affected. Other audience members don’t necessarily inform your
experience, don’t affect it, because they become part of the space. They’re ghosts, you
can forget about them. They can melt into the aesthetic or they can form walls. And they
can allow you to become really selfish, to be only concerned with how you’re reacting to
it. You’ve got to make decisions.

JM: You talked before about the presence of the text. Something that is really evident in
your work is that you turn to meaty theatrical sources, Shakespeare, Goethe. Clearly the
texts that you’re choosing are inherently complex, they have their own beauty and
lyricality, and a visceral language that already exists within the writing, so I’m interested
in the fact that you then choose to take that language out. Why turn to these weighty
texts and what is it that you appreciate in the verbal play and those intellectual ideas?

FB: The complexity that’s in these great works and the richness of the text. The detail,
the minutiae of the text is then scattered over the piece, we make that the experience so
it’s a complex journey through. The reason why we use these great classics is, for a start
the audience need a hook because the conventions take some getting used to. In order
to empower the audience they need to feel that is a puzzle, a conundrum that they can
grasp. They need to be able to piece together the history. That’s why we never write a
piece from scratch, there has to be that awakening, where it clicks for each individual.

JM: Is there something that remains of the visceral quality of the language that you have
responded to?

FB: Yeah, but it’s also about the time and place, the way the pentameter has an
atmosphere in itself because it is so specific to that particular era. It feels as if it’s from
another land, it’s otherworldly. So if you read something like Chekhov, which is a totally
different time and a different balance in the writing style, but again it has a flavour to it
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                             11

that is, in itself, otherworldly. And it’s that atmosphere that lies within the text. We try and
flush out, deconstruct and scatter that across the building, that’s why I think using a
contemporary play would be quite difficult as it’s all drawing out, making that atmosphere

JM: Are you saying you couldn’t work with a Beckett or a Sarah Kane pay?

FB: I’m saying that when I read [certain play-texts], I can see it and I can see it in
Punchdrunk conventions. But when I read Beckett, it’s more difficult to see that.

JM: Because it only follows Beckett conventions?

FB: Yeah.

JM: You can’t deconstruct it the same way.

FB: Because in [the texts Punchdrunk choose] the language is more complex, it feels
like it’s there to be opened up, you can rip it apart and look inside whereas a Kane play
is quite obtuse and it’s already opened up, all over the place. Because we’re reinventing
something it has to start from something precious. It’s the same with opera; I can’t wait
to try that out. We’re thinking about doing something with Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
That’s a really sacred work, so how dare we manipulate it; it’s a weighty tome. But for
that reason it’s perfect, it will be fascinating to crawl up inside it and find what the first
clarinet does all the way through.

JM: It’s like you’re viewing it in the same way that you talked about Shakespeare’s work,
in terms of the rhythm of the language, because Bach’s work is intensely mathematical,
he was also a mathematician, and it’s like you’re breaking down those formulae. You’re
responding to something in the form itself that you also want to tear apart.

FB: When it’s quite regimented then it’s easier to find the vignettes within it.

JM: Also the idea of the canon, picking up a moment and following it through and feeling
it become something different at any point.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                          12

FB: That’s totally Punchdrunk, it’s taking a couple of simple themes and they become
omnipresent, wherever you go there are variations upon a theme, all over the building.

JM: That deconstructive idea that a certain element becomes something different at any
moment, yet it’s original form also always remains present, a trace. … Can you also talk
about the other stimuli that are present in the work, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch,
Edward Hopper? In particular the particular film aesthetic that you turn to. Are they
intended simply as a playful comparison or is there something within those sources that
you’re responding to? For example, I think that David Lynch films are highly visceral, so
is it something experiential, not just thematic, that you’re turning to?

FB: Completely. We’ve tried many times to replicate his sound. They are his
compositions, with [Angelo] Badalamenti. His sound design is the most impactive thing.
We know in essence what the combinations are, we have the ingredients but we don’t
know what the secret formula is. I completely agree, his work is totally visceral. … I’ve
discovered recently, I had to do a talk about process and what our starting point was,
and I realised that music is what comes first. Unless I know what the music is for key
scenes, the big pieces of music that shape it, and thus I can feel it inside of me, I can’t

JM: So, to a certain extent, it’s soundtracks rather than films in a way.

FB: Yeah, with Sleep No More it was Bernard Hermann rather than Hitchcock that we
were influenced by. It’s to do with music that I can feel it. In the same way as with the
text, you read it and you can feel it. I can see it once I can hear it.

JM: And there must be some connection to be made there between space, music and
dance; choreographing and composing – those languages of performance that speak to
and with each other.

FB: Although the funny thing is I’m very wary of those huge bits of music, the money
shots in the show, not being choreographed because it’s like overkill. The choreography
works on its own and provides it’s own potency and power for that scene.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                         13

JM: That’s true, apart from the big set dance scenes; the dances occur without
soundscores, they create their own sound, the impact of body against body and the body
in space.

FB: It makes it more of a living world, where the performers are getting on with what they
do, regardless of sound. So the times where it does click in together, makes it all the
more powerful.

JM: Could you talk further about what Max has referred to as ‘the unseen words’? You
mentioned earlier how we follow Caliban’s narrative; strategies that offer us access to
these texts in a multidimensional way. So, let’s bring it back to working with bodies in
space to reveal the unseen that exists in the text. Max has talked about the psychology
of characters and being able to access that through the space in order that the ineffable
is opened up, something intangible is made tangible, moments are shared, understood.

FB: The performers are the characters and they have to believe it for themselves. A
large part of the process for the performers has to be experiential. So they could
hypothesise about that character but it’s the first introduction to the space, where they
get to explore it and ply with it and push it. To have that first childlike sense of discovery
that aids them, so they get to respond in the same way as the audience, so they feel the
corridors that are threatening, they find their own safe spaces. That first day we have
with the cast on site is such an important tool. It let’s them build their character and leave
memories all over the space, rather than just stepping in and using it as a stage. In
terms of the space being able to solve the conundrums for them, we try and make sure
that each character has their own space that is their home, their base. We should be
able to learn as much from that space about that character, regardless of whether
they’re in it or not. So I suppose, because they get to build out in that way, make it three-
dimensional then they really do exist in that place, they become wholly tangible. … I
think the reason why Max and I collaborate so well together is that I think about the
space affecting the psychology of the audience and I don’t worry so much about the
performers in that environment. Whereas that’s what Max does, what she’s fantastic at,
we’re like chalk and cheese.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                            14

JM: She’s thinking about how the space affects and shapes that physical language of
the dancers.

FB: For me it’s all about the audience, the performers are there as tools to accentuate
the impact of that space.

JM: Is there anything new you’ve discovered in this large-scale production of Faust that
you want to take further now?

FB: Yes, to do with form and structure. We realised at the end of Firebird’s Ball that it
wasn’t finite enough; it needed a sense of conclusion for the audience to feel satisfied. In
the early days the shows would run ad infinitum until the last member of the audience
left, so it was a real world, totally controlled by the audience. Obviously, practically that
doesn’t work because the poor cast become tired. So the one thing we’re getting closer
to solving as a result of Faust is the need for a finite ending so that the audience can feel
that they’ve got it. The most interesting thing for us with Faust was pulling everyone
down to the basement for Faust’s downfall, which was the most conventional space, it’s
like being in a studio in a way, and then your next door to the bar, that’s it, show over. So
coaxing people in in such a way that it happens organically.

JM: And, in a way, within that discipline and structure there is a liberation. Time’s
kaleidoscoping around you and you can experience the event in a completely non-linear
way and then retrace steps, go back, and find that resolution.

FB: It’s the sense of completion, you get that final image. I think that means we’re getting
dangerously close to conventional theatre, the idea that the curtain comes down, so it
becomes less gallery, less installation and more theatre because of that structure.

JM: But you never feel that, you never feel that the curtain’s come down, you always feel
that it’s still going on, it’s existing without you. … Obviously Punchdrunk’s work is being
discussed in critical and academic circles now so I’d like to know your views on that. In
particular what effects, if any, you think that analysis and interrogation has on the work?
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                             15

FB: I think it’s crucially important in a way. For me as a practitioner, I know that the only
way I can work is to rely on instinct. So it’s almost like the polar opposite, because if I
think about it too much then I would question decisions. I think it’s so important that that
analysis does happen elsewhere, so that the work exists in this climate. It’s fascinating,
the responses that people have on different levels, from the pure, immediate response,
because it is so experiential, so emotional, to the critical analysis, the deconstruction of
how and why it does that. Considering that the work is all about deconstruction anyway,
deconstructing a source, it stands to reason that the form then needs to be

JM: So the work requires something that is mutually sympathetic. A way of analysing
that meets the workings of the performance, and allows that play to continue. The very
act of intellectualising is entering into that play.

FB: Yes. It’s very interesting for me because I now want to go and think about some of
the questions that you’ve raised, because the form is so immediate -

JM: So it’s about finding a method of analysis that holds on to that immediacy, that
doesn’t destroy the work in the process of explaining it, but instead, opens it up.

FB: It’s so important that it’s about discovery, and apprehension, and destroying
preconceptions. We’re really wary about any publicity for the show. More and more
people are hearing about what it’s like so they may come with preconceptions of the
show. It can’t become formulaic.

JM: The practice and the thinking around that practice must always expand, must never
close itself off.

FB: It’s like, the press that really get it, don’t say much in their reviews about what it is.

JM: No, you’re right, they talk about feeling, the effect that the piece had on them, using
words like ‘intoxication’.
Machon/ Barrett Discussion: 02.02.07                                                       16

FB: And those that just list everything the saw don’t say anything about what they felt,
which just seems peculiar and a bit wrong and it just undermines what we’re all about.

Links: http:www.punchdrunk.org.uk

Punchdrunk’s latest event is The Masque of the Red Death at
Battersea Arts Centre, London. September 2007 onwards. See the
above link for details.

Felix Barrett
Felix Barrett is Artistic Director of Punchdrunk.

Josephine Machon
Josephine set up the Physical Theatre Programme at St. Mary’s College,
Twickenham and has recently joined the academic team at Brunel University.
She has co-edited Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual
Embodiment and Interactivity (2006) with Susan Broadhurst and is in the process
of writing (Syn)aesthetics – Towards a Definition of Visceral Performance. Her
current practice is concerned with the playful encounters that exist between the
body, text, space and technologies. Josephine is Sub-Editor for Body, Space &

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