Six years ago, masked theatregoers wandered the gothic corridors of the Battersea Arts Centre for a production by immersive theatre group Punchdrunk.
Now after years of searching for a location, the company has returned to a “bleak hinterland” of 200,000 square feet right in the heart of London, but are so far keeping their fans in the dark over which building it is.
The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable will play out over the vast mystery location in zone one on London’s public transport map.
Felix Barrett, artistic director of Punchdrunk, would only say the vast building was “disused, versatile and currently very, very cold”.
Two shows already fell through after the company failed to secure a location and it has taken three years to put this on this production, inspired by Georg Buchner’s play Woyzeck.
“Once a building hasn’t been used for a few years, the ghosts that echo around the walls make themselves present. This space is loaded with stories in the cracks of the walls,” Mr Barrett said. “It has a melancholy and a mystery to it that sits with Buchner’s visceral atmostphere.
Mr Barrett said finding a location was “the hurdle” for Punchdrunk putting on a new production. “Without a building there is no show. The architecture dictates what goes on inside it.”
He continued: “London is such a jam-packed, swollen metropolis with every inch used. It’s very rare to find empty space that is up for being used creatively that is any size at all.”
Punchdrunk really made headlines with The Masque of the Red Death which played out in the labyrinthine corridors of the BAC. Spectators put on masks and cloaks and moved silently between scenes played out in different rooms.
The Drowned Man, a co-production with the National Theatre, starts in June and will follow a similar format with the audience wearing masks and exploring the building. Yet this time, will be a much larger scale with space for 600 people a night.
Since the Masque of the Red Death other companies have taken over buildings to stage immersive theatre or film nights, such as Secret Cinema.
Mr Barrett said: “We’ve been away for six years and the scene has shifted dramatically. We’re delighted if we’re in any way influential. To inspire the next generation of practitioners is brilliant. The downside is it’s far more difficult to get a space because of the competition. I thought with our profile it might be easier, but no.”