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Andrzej Lukowski: The verdict on Punchdrunk’s low-key show Kabeiroi

Part of Kabeiroi was set around the British Museum. Photo: Shutterstock
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It may seem a weird cosmic joke (or perhaps an intervention by the Greek gods – more of whom later), but two days after writing a grumbling article about how difficult it was to get tickets to the new Punchdrunk show Kabeiroi, I got tickets to the new Punchdrunk show Kabeiroi.

I did nothing special to get them – no media strings were pulled – I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time when some tickets were put on general sale a few days after the ballot draw.

None of this has shifted the objections I previously raised regarding substantially allocating a show’s tickets by ballot. But rather than retread old ground, most readers will be keen to know what the show was like. And it was… pretty good!

The number of people who have yet to see Kabeiroi – which is for an audience of just two, and ends on November 5 – must now be down into the low double figures, but in the interests of preserving both their enjoyment and that of the people who may see a future iteration, I’ll try not to drop in any spoilers.

Kabeiroi is an attempt to substitute Punchdrunk’s meticulously crafted indoor worlds for London itself. In some places, it works brilliantly. As the excellent opening section – an audio walking tour of sorts – reminds us, the capital has long provided vivid terrain for the imagination of artists. At the climax of part one, the British Museum out-Punchdrunks Punchdrunk in the atmosphere stakes.

The show never quite recaptures that early tension and the sense of total immersion in the surroundings. And, like most Punchdrunk shows, it’s somewhat let down by a plot that a decent dramaturg could fix without much bother. It’s about some Greek gods offering us… immortality. I think. And some other Greek gods… trying to stop us? Maybe?.

Across the hefty running time, there are shifts in tone and style that recall other immersive and interactive companies: it begins a bit like a goth version of Non Zero One, movies into a goth Coney and ends as full-goth Punchdrunk.

There’s dead time in the middle, presumably to accommodate the complicated logistics and the distinct possibility of ticket-holders getting lost or confused. We did it in about four-and-a-half hours and certainly messed up a couple of times; it’s hard to imagine the stated upper limit of six hours exists as anything more than a buffer zone against monumental failures of orienteering.

Does it live up to the hype? Well, ultimately it’s a frustration that there was so much hype for an interesting, low-key show that might have been better served by not being viewed as the successor to the mega-sized The Drowned Man (which took in a larger audience per night than Kabeiroi did in its entire run).

Here, Punchdrunk sheds many of the tropes of its recent work in a way that you suspect is a huge relief to them. Yet the spectre of their enormous popularity lurks inescapably: they are the superstars of immersive theatre, and a show like this is a sort of wilful escape from their superstardom.

I suppose I should be insufferably smug that I saw Kabeiroi, but actually I wish you’d seen it too, as it’s the sort of show that bears discussion. I hope you’ll get the chance.

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