Punchdrunk’s The Borough
Stand curious in a dream and hear those voices that will not be drowned…
Punchdrunk’s The Borough is a liminal beast. It lies somewhere between George Crabbe’s poem The Borough and Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and is formed on the threshold of the imagined and the real, existing at the interstice of the fictional and the everyday world of Aldeburgh. Aldeburgh is the original inspiration and setting for Crabbe’s The Borough and Britten’s Peter Grimes and it is Aldeburgh that will serve to ignite the imaginative curiosity of each individual visitor to this experience.
Punchdrunk is a leading innovator of the ‘immersive’ form. Punchdrunk’s unique approach celebrates the audience, encourages it to take risks, respecting its role in the work. Punchdrunk’s practice exploits all that is experiential in performance in order to create mysterious, multifaceted worlds into which each audience member is sensually, intellectually and emotionally inserted. These are worlds beyond the everyday, worlds in which the individual is immersed for a delightfully, sometimes forebodingly, ludic period of time. Site is all-important in a Punchdrunk production; each work produced is intuitively sensitive to the stories that exist in a chosen location. The text(ure)s of the space enable the company, subsequently the audience, to become aware of dimension and detail in the narratives, themes and concepts of the artistic source.With The Borough Punchdrunk have tapped into the stories embedded in Aldeburgh; the geographical and social history that inhabits the area as much as the story of Peter Grimes, so deeply entwined in the town’s wider narrative.
You will embark on this headphone-journey accompanied only by your audio guide.You will be feeling your way through this event, tracing the detail of the unfolding narrative held within the specifics of the location: moment-by-moment, stepby- step, beat-by-beat. The world will exist in your head as much as it will be envisaged in front of your eyes, made tactile through your ability to navigate the terrain and to interact physically with the experience. The sights and smells of Aldeburgh, made unusual via Punchdrunk’s unique artistry, will texture your journey. By responding to longstanding features such as the Moot Hall and the eroding land upon which it lies – echoing the erosion of the fishing industries of the town – Punchdrunk enable sensual access to lived experience (a way of life that is no more) and to the central themes of the source material (the shifting fortunes of Grimes).
Recollection and remembrance permeate this work, a nod to the ‘remembrance’ that this festival marks in commemorating Britten’s centenary. The particular history of Peter Grimes is one of many stories that are shared in your audio companion’s recollections as other characters infiltrate this contemplative journey. The whole experience will work like a series of hauntings, tapping into Grimes’ eerie narrative and equally to the fact that Aldeburgh itself is ‘haunted’ by its fishing past.You will walk through this present-past as you make your way along the pavements and paths towards the sea. Attend to the details as you are guided and you will find that you are responding holistically, becoming physically attuned to the surroundings and the stories that haunt the space. As silent witness you are present within each setting; spectre rather than spectator. Simultaneously, the scenarios presented to you themselves feel like hauntings, dreamlike imagery conjured before you; moments that are tantalisingly elusive and elusively tangible. As this suggests, temporal as much as topographical planes will be traversed, private and public predicaments made palpable; histories will be experienced.
Punchdrunk are adept at working with masterpieces. Previous sources include Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, Goethe’s Faust, Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Stravinsky’s Firebird. Punchdrunk mine this material and interweave the wider sources that inspired these classic compositions in order to get to the heart of the themes and philosophical concepts so that the audience can be deeply inserted into its world and consequently able to comprehend these works in a new and visceral way. Punchdrunk have reinterpreted The Borough and Peter Grimes, accessing something basic in the politics and psychologies of both, penetrating that which Britten responded to in creating his masterpiece.
This is a concentrated, 55-minute experience that draws on Britten’s music to arouse emotion and underscore ideas. Felix Barrett, founder and artistic director of Punchdrunk, has for a long time been inspired by the interludes in Peter Grimes: the mood evoked that holds you in its grip, the sheer force of the chorus that overwhelms you like crashing waves. Punchdrunk’s The Borough sets the central narrative of the opera as the compass of your journey, while the score itself becomes more prominent as your journey unfolds. Punchdrunk interweave the emotional and atmospheric core of the opera’s interludes through Crabbe’s poem, Montagu Slater’s libretto and the wider histories of Aldeburgh; distilling these rich components to get to the essence of the ‘Grimes experience’. Fragmenting the stories in a non-linear fashion, the piece is not chronological but tangential and in this way takes you into the crevices and cracks of the work to feel beyond the page, to exist within the score, to breathe within the inspiration for the composition. For those already fans of this opera, this condensed encounter allows for a renewed perspective on Britten’s much-loved work. For those unfamiliar with the operatic world but enthusiastic about Punchdrunk’s practice, this will introduce you to the company’s experimentation with the intimacy that audio-technologies allow. Either way, Punchdrunk’s The Borough will open up an appreciation of both art forms and will make clear that, in Aldeburgh 2013, Britten lives here.