Punchdrunk’s luxury rebrand is the theatrical version of gentrification | Stage

This week, Punchdrunk opened its new theatre show, Kabeiroi. This isn’t theatre as it is commonly experienced. It is performed for an audience of just two, over six hours, in locations across central London. Just 864 tickets were allocated by raffle, at £110 a pair (and the show, stipulated the company, could only be experienced in pairs).

This is theatre as luxury product. Even critics couldn’t get a ticket. The company’s statement explained: “As spaces are extremely limited, unfortunately there will be no free tickets available for the media. Any journalist wishing to purchase a ticket will be able to enter the ballot.” The Guardian’s review was written by a “keyholder” – supporters of Punchdrunk who can pay from £30 to £5,000 a year; the top rate gets you dinner with the artistic team and “a personalised service … as you develop and nurture a close relationship with the company”. About 20% of tickets (85 pairs) went to people paying at least £250 a year.

So what is Punchdrunk? Before Kabeiroi, if you were wearing a mask that didn’t fit over your spectacles, watching a titillating (but deeply artistic) sex scene and wondering where your friends had disappeared to – perhaps it was the mysterious “premium floor”, for people who had paid even more for their tickets – you were probably at a Punchdrunk show.

The Drowned Man, 2013. Photograph: Punchdrunk

The London-based company has become synonymous with a particular form of immersive theatre, where you are less of an audience member and more of a participant. Punchdrunk takes over a large building, such as an old office block, turns it into a meticulously decorated, multiroom stage set and sends theatregoers wandering through.

After much perusing of mysterious-looking bedrooms and doctors’ surgeries, thickly laden with clues (or, more likely, red herrings), you will stumble upon some characters – a party girl, a cowboy, an aristocrat. These alluring creatures may…

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