Few theatre companies could describe using a linear narrative as "taking a risk". But defying convention is the norm for Punchdrunk, the group behind a string of "immersive theatre" events that have already entered modern London folklore.
Punchdrunk's artistic director and founder Felix Barrett describes It Felt Like a Kiss, the new production taking place as part of the Manchester International Festival next month, as "a fusion of political documentary, haunted house and Japanese ghost train that explores the American dream and the rise of individualism".
Despite the linear structure, the event promises to deliver plenty of Punchdrunk's twists and turns to an audience guided round a derelict building in which film and music – composed by Blur's Damon Albarn – replace actors. Does this change the show from theatre to installation? "We wouldn't want to pigeonhole ourselves. The constant is that the audience is at the heart – a show with no performers makes it even more about them," says Barrett.
Anyone who wandered the maze of disused tunnels occupied by uncanny characters and art in Waterloo as part of Tunnel 228 – Punchdrunk's recent collaboration with the Old Vic – will attest to the unnerving experience of finding oneself enveloped in the reality of the company's vision. "We awaken the body to awaken the mind," says Barrett. "It's a jolt to the system that audiences seem to find addictive."
The future? "We have lots in the pipeline, it's a question of finding the right location," says Barrett, who admits to a fascination with forbidden or forgotten spaces. "The building dictates what happens – you have to trust the ghosts you find there."
'It Felt Like a Kiss' runs from 2 July to 19 July, www.mif.co.uk