Review: It Felt Like A Kiss

I’ve wanted to see Punchdrunk for the last year and a half and they’ve always somehow alluded me, until now – given a golden ticket by the lovely John Roberts I eagerly entered into a world of strange and surreal possibility and was terrified out of my wits.  Here’s my review for The Public Reviews – but with twitter like brevity – go go go if you can!

‘He Hit Me and It Felt Like A Kiss’, the haunting song by The Crystals based on singer Little Eva’s violent boyfriend is the languidly pulsating heart at the centre of Adam Curtis and Felix Barrett’s darkly hypnotising and mind freezingly terrifying ‘It Felt Like A Kiss’.  Driven by a desire to give an audience a linear experience of Curtis’ experimental BBC political film about the rise of America, Barrett has hijacked an old office block in the centre of Manchester, turning rooms from blank work spaces into perfectly preserved 1950’s/60’s bedrooms, gardens, hospital bedrooms and nightmares.

From the moment that you edge through a laughing clown’s mouth into the darkness within you become the child of your imaginary adventures; ‘I will be strong, I will be the one to go first’ one thinks, as dark spaces with bodies on the floor (are these manikins or not – each decision turns out to be the wrong one, sometimes to horrifyingly jumpy effect) lead into eerily still rooms full of evidence and tiny model villages with flickering lights and miniature inhabitants. 

Going against Punchdrunk’s usual vein of unique individual participation, you are encouraged to share this journey with others, at one point when standing on the precipice of terror which ends this piece you are positively encouraged to stick together – ‘Stay in the group to be safe’ we are ordered.  I don’t need to be told twice.  But it is also an adventure which can be experienced alone, and as individuals traverse through each space you are in complete control of your own time within this massive and slightly spooky ghost train.  At points one finds oneself wishing for a yellow brick road or white rabbit to point the way.  

Damon Albarn’s soundtrack completes your sensory experience with a score which sinks into your brain, seeding thoughts and memories both on a conscious and subconscious level.  It is brilliantly recorded by the disturbingly unique Kronos Quartet, whose rumbling and echoing sound is at times soothing and at times downright nerve wracking.  Creating the perfect counterpoint to the ‘dream songs’, as Curtis calls them, of the soulful 1960’s pop numbers which also sparkle within this piece, the whole thing feels like you’ve walked into the twilight zone of a decaying past glory.  Anything could and does happen and as you are shown the darker side of this national ambition, truly scary things take you by surprise and the adrenalin heightens your physical awareness and level of mental participation until you are a fully integrated part of the environment around you. 

Your own personal nightmare and the shared journey of a broken world power It Felt Like A Kiss is a patchwork quilt of sensory experience that has periods of stillness, moments of anticipation, true gasping sections of terror and an infinite sadness which permeates the entire space and begins to infuse your very centre.  Time and space become infinite and as you get lost for what feels like months or weeks or days part of you won’t care about returning to your outside world, but only about the next room that you are going to enter. 

The tragic documentation of a nation’s poisoned dreams and the frightening experience of one with no dreams at all this is both an enticing and chilling event.  If you have to kill to get a ticket to this do it.  It is astonishing and just where theatre should be going.

First posted on The Public Reviews – It Felt Like A Kiss runs until 19 July.

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