Faust

Punchdrunk, after Goethe
A secret location in Wapping
(2006)

Production photo

At least Faust had 24 years of high living before he had to descend into Hell. Visitors to Punchdrunk's version of his story have to trek out to the Wapping Docks in order to experience their own nightmare.

This event is so hit and miss that if you get it wrong, you would have a better time being mugged.

The entry is through a country and western bar from which you are taken into a massive disused warehouse or factory space. You are then instructed to put on and keep on a plastic mask that is impossible to wear with glasses.

Let loose around five floors, the choice is to wander around looking at what is effectively an elaborate if dangerously underlit art installation or follow the only people without masks, the performers.

Your critic thus spent an hour bereft of any activity, walking around and waiting increasingly desperately for anything at all to happen. In that time, a couple of people danced around a bit and one stylised fight took place.

Eventually, a few performers were spotted in a bar together and a bigger fight took place, over a woman. This was followed by what might have been a rape or orgy.

Full to capacity, this venue is close to dangerous, as punters begin to chase after anyone who looks interesting, not above bashing or trampling people in the hope of seeing something happen.

Just under two hours in, this poor, bemused and very tired theatre-lover finally stumbled towards the bar and exit but was ordered back into the fray to see the final scene. In this, a naked man (maybe Faust or an unlucky audience member?) is almost assaulted and then the lights go out.

The synopsis describes seven distinct scenes. Despite a desire to see as much as possible, this lost soul saw a fraction of two and was not aware at any point of whether Faust, Mephistopheles or Gretchen had been sighted or that the plot as decribed was developing. On the plus side, there was some energetic and artistic modern dance on view at one point.

Apparently, if you make all of the right decisions this is a wonderful experience. If not, a night in Hell would be infinitely more enjoyable and might feel a good deal shorter.

Running until 30th December. Tickets from the National Theatre box office

The producers have asked us to emphasise that "Punchdrunk and our partners undertook comprehensive and costly steps to comply with public safety requirements for the use of 21 Wapping Lane for public performance. The premises and production are fully licensed by LB Tower Hamlets on the strength of measures taken. Both the capacity of the audience and their conduct inside the site are controlled by this license". We still advise patrons to take the greatest care.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher