Rasch The Duchess of Malfi, English National Opera & Punchdrunk

We journeyed to deepest docklands, a bewildered group of punters and members of the press clutching our precious tickets (all performances sold out in six hours) and a precise set of directions to the mysterious location.

WARG Pharmaceuticals handed us appointment cards for a new vaccination programme (slightly unsettling) and we were herded to the doors of “the venue”. Masks were distributed (warning: a big problem if you happen to wear glasses) as were cursory health and safety announcements. But no further mention of vaccination. “I am not mad”, the Duchess of Malfi had famously insisted. Perhaps we too were there for “the cure”. This was, after all, “immersive” theatre.

Well, a series of deserted rooms connected to some sinister treatment programme did not make for comfortable exploration and as the darkness intensified and the spaces grew bigger the sound of less cautious audience members colliding with obstacles or even crashing to the floor was not the kind of music I had hoped to hear. Indeed, so far no music at all save the “white noise” of a moody underscoring track grimly suggestive of dark and dastardly deeds. All would doubtless be revealed but not in any coherent form of narrative. Punchdrunk shows are all about making choices as to when and where you go – which direction, which corridor, which room. I soon encountered an empty bedchamber, a forest of wire trees (magical), a room in which pages of a musical manuscript seemed to float in mid-air. Perhaps Torsten Rasch’s much-anticipated score had literally blown away. Still no live music. Perhaps I had spent too long eavesdropping on a particularly compelling, not to say brutally athletic sex act. I’m pretty sure the Duchess wasn’t involved (in nearly 30 minutes of exploring I had still not encountered her). Would I? I think I saw one of my colleagues (I recognised the jumper) being dragged into an empty room by an unmasked courtier. No such luck.

But suddenly there was music and dancing and a Cardinal. And then I was in a kind of church with pews and a group of mellifluous woodwinds accompanying singing characters I could not identify and words I could not make out. In another room a beautiful threnody for strings was deeply redolent of Alban Berg, the composer Torsten Rasch’s self-confessed idol. As anyone who knows his thrilling orchestral song-cycle Mein herz brennt will know, this man writes most beautifully for both voice and orchestra. I just couldn’t get a handle on his score – probably because Punchdrunk shows eschew linearity and music to some extent – and especially with regard to development - demands it.

I think I saw and heard five or six of the opera’s nine scenes (there is no guarantee you’ll catch all of it unless you wisely follow the musicians) and I did – later rather than sooner – encounter the Duchess (the impressive contralto of Claudia Huckle) in a blackened room (scary) gazing at computer monitors all replicating the same image of a disappearing child (one of hers?). Her twin brother Ferdinand (fearless counter-tenor Andrew Watts), naked and bloodied, pushed me aside.

Punchdrunk’s priorities are to refract the drama and place greater emphasis on the dark and suffocating atmosphere of Webster’s nihilistic play. And if ENO’s part in all of this occasionally seemed incidental to overall effect, the final scene (where we do all arrive together) was jaw-droppingly operatic. No, I will not give away the final coup de theatre except to say that the body count is awesome.


Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada