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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas