Friday, 26 October 2007

A night with the Red Death

Hot from the special care baby unit, an evening at the old town hall that is the Battersea Arts Centre provides a welcome distraction. If you haven’t already got a ticket, it’s too late now because the Punchdrunk company’s Masque of the Red Death is sold out to the end of its run in January.

Billed as a ‘promenade performance’, it’s a cross between moving theatre, a circus, an art installation and an old-fashioned fairground chamber of horrors. The old Victorian town hall has been taken over and transformed for the purpose into a dimly-lit labyrinth, prepared with meticulous – and macabre – detail to bring to life the darkest recesses of Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination.

You’re encouraged to dress for the occasion and to explore the building on your own, anonymous behind the masks that are distributed on entry (along with a Victorian penny with which to ‘buy something to keep you safe’). I didn’t have much success in following the theatre narrative, and found myself wandering off into a dark basement corridor, where a hand clasped me by the throat and pinned me to the wall as a trickle of absinthe was forced into my mouth.

'The last person who came here I hanged for six hours until he died,’ hissed a voice as a hand felt its way slowly beneath my mask and across my face. Fingers tightened around my eye. ‘And before he did …’ A sudden snatching motion with the hand. ‘… I ripped his eye from its socket, and made him look on it with his other eye.’

People with a heart condition, Muslims and recovering alcoholics are advised not to apply. But for the rest of you, get in character, dress the part and join the queue for returned tickets. I won’t spoil things with further details in case you’re one of the lucky ones.

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