Punchdrunk timeline: How the immersive theatre company took over the world
You may know theatre companies such as Mischief Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the United Kingdom. Or if you’re in New York, you’ve probably heard of producers like Second Stage Theater and Roundabout Theatre Company. These aforementioned groups create trailblazing works year-round, with dozens of productions staged in the same venue. But what if audiences could be a part of the action? And what if theatre companies performed in show-specific venues? Enter Punchdrunk.
For over 20 years, the British theatre company Punchdrunk has specialised in creating immersive theatre shows inspired by literary and creative works. Punchdrunk continue to be at the top of the game, and they’re the force behind pinnacle moments in interactive theatre.
Discover how Punchdrunk went from a small company to an indomitable force in immersive theatre, then book your tickets to see Punchdrunk shows in London and New York. Experience a new world via the theatre.
Punchdrunk shows to see right now
We know we shouldn’t say ‘Macbeth’ out loud. It’s kind of an unwritten rule that uttering Macbeth is unlucky. However, Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More goes against the grain and provides an enriching immersive theatre experience. During Sleep No More, audiences walk through a series of rooms to uncover the story as much or as little as they wish. Five floors of the McKittrick Hotel are dedicated to Sleep No More. Will you see the three witches at the check-in lobby? Or how about Macbeth’s bedroom in the hotel residency quarters? Wherever you visit, something wicked this way comes.
Sleep No More takes inspiration from Macbeth, Alfred Hitchcock noir films such as Suspicion and Vertigo, and late 17th-century witch trials. Sleep No More premiered in 2003 in London and reopened in new fashion in New York in 2011. Catch Punchdrunk’s multi-award-winning show in New York.
What do you get if you blend ancient Greek texts with world-leading immersive theatre? A trip to the underworld. Go back thousands of years and venture through new lands in The Burnt City. During the three-hour epic, audiences roam through a colossal playground in interactive fashion. However, there is a narrative threading all the chaos together; The Burnt City is led by the tales of Agamemnon and Hecuba. The Burnt City takes place at One Cartridge Place, Punchdrunk’s new permanent home. Don’t be stuck in the theatre labyrinth. Discover what happened in the burnt city.
History of Punchdrunk shows
2000: The Cherry Orchard
Punchdrunk made its mark on the theatre scene with an immersive adaptation of The Cherry Orchard. The Punchdrunk company originally featured a group of Exeter University drama students, led by Felix Barrett as artistic director.
2000: The Moonslave
Later that year, Punchdrunk presented The Moonslave, an original work that saw audiences follow a candlelit path through a dense forest. Audiences were taken one-by-one through the woods with a masked chauffeur. Thankfully there was no stranger danger!
2000: The House of Oedipus
Punchdrunk combined Sophocles’s Antigone and Oedipus Rex plays for The House of Oedipus. The House of Oedipus play was staged across 13 acres of Poltimore House’s Victorian garden.
2002: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare’s works proved fruitful for Punchdrunk adaptations, as in 2002, the company reworked A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Audiences joined in the fantastical production, newly set in a private house and garden.
Punchdrunk’s next visionary show was inspired by adapting Eugène Ionesco’s tragedy play, The Chairs. Audiences pulled up more than a few seats though, especially as it was staged in a large venue: the Old Seager Distillery in Deptford, London.
2003: The Tempest
All five floors of the Old Seagar Distillery were once again utilised for the 2003 Punchdrunk adaptation of The Tempest. When stepping into the performance space, audiences were welcomed to Prospero’s island.
Punchdrunk then took over the British festival scene in 2004 by performing a site-specific and compact version of Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck. As the event lasted for one weekend, there was little time for audiences to take part; however, this wasn’t the end for Punchdrunk summer shows.
If audiences missed out on Woyzeck, they could catch Marat/Sade at the Big Chill Music Festival the following year. Peter Weiss’ play — which follows the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat under the direction of Marquis de Sade — was now told in a tent. Even though it’s not the cheeriest topic, it still stunned audiences.
2005: The Firebird Ball
Punchdrunk impressed critics and made its mark in 2005 with The Firebird Ball. The award-winning production combined William Shakespeare’s romantic Romeo and Juliet with the myth of the Firebird myth, which prophesies blessings on those who see it. The Bard and Stravinsky stories worked together in perfect harmony for six weeks.
A year later, Punchdrunk took audiences into the Deep South with Faust, an immersive story that amalgamated Goethe’s Faust and Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The National Theatre and Punchdrunk collaboration played for six months at a site-specific location near Tower Bridge. Thankfully, the devil didn’t curse this production, as Faust won multiple design-based awards.
2007: The Masque of the Red Death
Many of London’s theatres and performance spaces date back hundreds of years. But few productions acknowledge the history that lies within the venue’s walls. Naturally, Punchdrunk changed that with The Masque of the Red Death, a 2007 production that combined Edgar Allan Poe stories with the origins of Battersea Old Town Hall. The production used plot points from eight Poe stories including The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart.
2009: Tunnel 228
Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Tunnel 228, followed the efforts to minimise the gap between classes in an urban dystopia. So how could Punchdrunk bring a fictional world to life? Easy. Transform tunnels underneath Waterloo stations into an otherworldly experience. Tunnel 228 showcased the work of 23 artists in an immersive production, ultimately aiming to marry art and theatre together.
2009: It Felt Like a Kiss
How did America rise, fall, and then rise again? Forget demonstrating chaneg through political and economic movements, as America’s history is easily identifiable through pop music. Punchdrunk staged It Felt Like a Kiss at Quay House in Manchester and invited audiences to learn more about Stateside antics through film, art, and songs.
2010: The Duchess of Malfi
Getting your hands on The Duchess of Malfi tickets was a tough task. Thanks to Punchdrunk’s ever-growing popularity, The Duchess of Malfi sold out in one day. The Duchess of Malfi combined Webster’s Jacobean play with an original, illuminating score, to bring further intrigue and drama to the epic opera. The production also included the English National Opera’s 69-piece symphony orchestra.
2013: The Borough
Once again, Punchdrunk combined two rarely told stories, George Crabbe’s poem The Borough and Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, for a sensational interactive experience. The Borough performances took place in Aldeburgh, a small seaside town in England.
2013: The Drowned Man
Visiting Hollywood didn’t require a 12-hour flight from London to LA. Instead, Hollywood came to life in The Drowned Man, a Punchdrunk show that combined the heady heights of fame with hallucinations and delusional dreamers. Temple Studios was transformed into Temple Pictures, a studio where anything goes, and success isn’t always guaranteed.
Many Punchdrunk shows invite a large audience to the performance space. But in Kabeiroi, audiences walk around London for a six-hour experience in pairs. Kabeiroi combined theatre with gaming elements and a city tour for an unforgettable day. The show combined ancient Greek myths with London today.