I found this post in my drafts after not being here for a while. But it still makes sense so here it is. And Faust may still be on. Cynically I also slightly wonder if it will increase my hit rate (from zero…). Perhaps I should link to David Eldridge and Fin Kennedy‘s excellent blogs if i want attention.
So punchdrunk and shunt make genuinely interesting attempts to redefine the relationship with the audience. I think this is true. And with the astute (but hands-off) backing of the NT, they are able to attract the kind of bemused, uncomfortable, slightly frightened middle-aged, middle-class audience with lots of cash that mill around a little nervously amongst the hip kids with media studies and art degrees. It is worth making a comparison of these two barnstormers of the current London experimental scene (if there is such a thing). Shunt are by some distance more radical, I think, and more serious-minded, and perhaps for the same reason more prone to create moments that don’t translate. The confrontation is important to them, always has been as far as I remember: there’s a hint of a stylish Forced Entertainments about them, with cabaret as a reference point rather than 70s and 80s Americana. FE have always celebrated the vapid and challenged you to decide whether they’re being profound – sometimes Shunt’s attempts to celebrate the profound can seem a little vapid. Plus shunt are so determined not to be seen as being overserious that they include lots of defiantly flippant material – which can come across as a bit dada-by-numbers.
I’ve only seen Faust of Punchdrunk’s work and its scale is certainly awesome. There are real treats – tiny private moments – and I think the emphasis on movement rather over text suits this kind of work brilliantly – it’s their most definite and distinctive contribution. But here (and with dreamthinkspeak, who must be bewildered at having missed the NT boat – despite an arguably more consistent output; but they don’t have punchdrunk’s cockily feel-good, sponsor-friendly cool), there seems a laziness to the structure – the audience leave when they get bored. Which seems to me to be a terrible way of ending a theatrical event when we so often talk about the shared experience. The streets around the venue are intermittently spilt with punters who think they’ve probably seen about as much as they can be bothered to see without walking up all those stairs again.. there’s something wrong here. Watching the band in the bar isn’t a unifying experience (or if it was to be, the bar needed to be a lot bigger and more chaotic). What about the audience (again)? When we try these new ways of relating, aren’t we making something in collaboration with them, making decisions together about when it’s over and that we’re satisfied to be unsatisfied or happy to have been fulfilled? Perhaps it’s not possible, on the industrial scale that Faust works on, to worry about the little guy in the sweaty mask.