The Crash of the Elysium, Punchdrunk and the BBC

Written for Exeunt Magazine

Here’s the question that’s been bothering me since I saw Punchdrunk’s The Crash of the Elysium at the Manchester International Festival: was this a brilliant piece of immersive theatre or just essentially a 3D version of an episode of Doctor Who?

Don’t get me wrong; I loved this production, loved it. As a Doctor Who fan I was bound to; like many fans I’ve always wanted to be part of one of the Doctor’s adventures and The Crash allowed that happen – for that it won my heart. And yet I kept wondering if it all wasn’t one big advert for a BBC TV show? Was it Punchdrunk’s innovation I was responding to or a more basic, childlike excitement about getting to enter the Doctor’s world?

I still get a warm glow from looking at the crumpled letter from the Doctor that was addressed just to me and remembering the wonderful feeling of companionship that was created in our group of audience members, previously strangers to one another. I’m grinning now as I think about our shrieks and gasps as we fought one of the scariest Doctor Who villains, of seeing the Tardis up close, of being part of an army patrol led by a valiant captain. I’m trying to equate my own delight as a 30 year old adult to that of an even more (though not much more, to be honest) excitable 13 year old or even a brave one of six. As thrilling as I found the whole experience, it must have been incredible to be a child and be part of this.

The one sticking point for me is that this was an adventure that anyone could have given us. There’s a Doctor Who Experience raking it in at Olympia in London; is The Crash of the Elysium really very different? I don’t think it is. It’s designed with the fans in mind, and for young fans at that, but perhaps this limits rather than liberates the potential for originality and imagination.

Though I love everything Who-related, I wanted more in the way of Punchdrunk’s vision. I wanted them to deviate from the path a bit, to break away from the creation of a real life TV experience and into something more theatrical and unexpected; I suppose I really wanted something more of the Punchdrunk aesthetic to merge with this Doctor Whouniverse. In all honesty I’m not sure how they could have done that, but on the evidence of the genre-bending Adam Curtis-collaboration, It Felt Like A Kiss at the last Manchester International Festival – another syncing of TV and theatre – I feel that Felix Barrett and co might have been capable of pulling it off.

The production has so much going for it. The cast are masters of making each team mate feel important at all times and the thrills are undeniably there – for adults and children alike. But I do wonder if there was a degree of complacency at work here, a little bit of laziness – or maybe it’s simpler than that, maybe Doctor Who is just too big and well known, the brand ultimately constrictive to  a company of proven imagination.


Dreamboats & Petticoats – the enjoyable musical coat hanger of the 60s.

Well after a long absence this theatre goer was whisked back into the darkened auditorium for the sugar candy coated extravaganza that is Dreamboats & Petticoats.  Based on the apparently million selling album (although neither I nor my friend had heard of it at all – I’d be very interested if anyone has?) this is simply a collection of 1960s classics with a very meagre story of teen love and a bit of rock and roll thrown in to tie it all together. 


All the greats are here from the strangely addictive Let’s Twist Again to the pulsating rhythms of Shakin’ All Over and the dulcet longings of To Know Him Is To Love Him.  All in all there are a dizzying 43 musical numbers in a piece which could only be described as the musical equivalent of a coat hanger; let those 60s tunes hang off there boys, and heaven forbid we should have any actual substance.


The tunes are jolly enough, as are the twirling petticoats and hunky dreamboats but after seeing Adam Curtis and Felix Barrett’s darker side of this sixties dream I felt it all a bit difficult to take – a cute nostalgic look at a time before globalization and commercialism were gods, whored about (ok maybe that’s a bit much, performed then) in the temple of one such commercial god? All a bit fishy really.  


But I can’t moan about this fully because to gar my grew it was actually enjoyable (well until they got mopey at the end and started banging on about love where my ‘grew’ definitely prevailed).  Like Thriller, it is hard not to be blasted away by the unstoppable force of pop music when it’s as good as these songs inevitably are.  The performances are also much better than expected with Daisy Wood-Davis’s caramel voice bringing just the right sweetness to innocent Laura and Ben Freeman well and truly shaking off his Emmerdale past in a bone hip breaking performance as the cocky Norman that would make a young Elvis proud.  Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (with their eons of experience in such nostalgic BBC comedy gold) have produced a book which, although at times incredibly cheesy, is funny and sharp and actually makes you want more talking and less singing which can be no bad thing.


I anticipate that this is going to do very, very well.  Even this cynic couldn’t stop smiling at points, the effervescent energy of pure pop shining through – oh and I saw Cilla Black, so it can’t all be bad can it?

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.

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