Punchdrunk (theatre company)

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TypeTheatre company
IndustryArts & Entertainment
FounderFelix Barrett
United Kingdom

Punchdrunk is a British theatre company, formed in 2000, by Artistic Director Felix Barrett MBE.[1] Since its inception, Punchdrunk has pioneered[2] a form of "immersive" theatre[3] in which the audience is free to choose what to watch and where to go.[4] This format is related to "promenade theatre". Barrett prefers the term "site-sympathetic" when describing their work.[5] In 2015, Punchdrunk formed a new company, Punchdrunk International, which produces a selection of Punchdrunk's commercial productions for national and international audiences.

As the founder, Barrett continues to be the company's Artistic Director and works closely with the company's creative team. Punchdrunk's Executive Director is Rebecca Dawson and Peter Higgin is Director of Enrichment and Punchdrunk Village. Company members include Associate Director and Choreographer Maxine Doyle, Creative Producer Colin Nightingale, Creative Director Stephen Dobbie, and Design Director Livi Vaughan.

The company is a National Portfolio Organisation with Arts Council England.[6]

Punchdrunk International[edit]

In 2015, Punchdrunk founded a new production company, Punchdrunk International. The company produces artistic works created by Felix Barrett and the Punchdrunk creative team, including Sleep No More, Shanghai.

The company also creates innovation-led partnerships with selected organisations on a bespoke basis. This has included a long term creative partnership with Samsung North America. Projects made in collaboration with the company include Believe Your Eyes, a VR experience for Cannes Lions Festival, 2016. The experience has since travelled to Art Basel Miami, Samsung 837 in New York and Phi Centre, Montreal. Believe Your Eyes was awarded a Silver Lion in the Entertainment category at Cannes 2017.

Punchdrunk International also collaborated with Samsung and Rihanna.[7] on a major campaign for the launch of her eighth album, Anti. A cross-platform experience, ANTIdiaRy told the story of Rihanna's life and transformations, through a series of rooms audiences could journey through. Punchdrunk International gave creative direction to a series of TV films, a digital experience and live events throughout the US. ANTIdiaRy was awarded a Bronze Lion in the Integrated Campaign Led By Promo & Activation category at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2016.

In 2017, Punchdrunk International were commissioned by Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) and Civic Entertainment Group, USA to create an interactive experience for the launch of Search Party season two. In November 2017, guests were invited to Public Hotel, NYC to delve into scenes from season one and granted a sneak preview into the darker themes and narratives of forthcoming episodes through a series of interactions with performers.

According to Punchdrunk International's website, updated in June 2019, the group was planning a major new production in London, for which they were now recruiting personnel.[8]

In July 2019, production began on the company's first television project, The Third Day, a co-production between Sky Studios and HBO, in partnership with Plan B Entertainment, writer Dennis Kelly and Punchdrunk International.[9] It will air in the UK and the US in 2020.

Punchdrunk Enrichment[edit]

In 2008, Punchdrunk founded a new branch of the company focused on outreach to communities and schools called Punchdrunk Enrichment. Punchdrunk Enrichment projects are mostly aimed at children and young people but they are created out of the same ethos as Punchdrunk's main projects, with a similar ambition in terms of form, scale and design.

Peter Higgin, Punchdrunk's Director of Enrichment, described these projects as "transformative experiences with a wider educational focus and the trademark design and imagination that you’d get in bigger Punchdrunk shows."[10]

Projects from Punchdrunk Enrichment include:

  • Under the Eiderdown (2009 - 2014), a theatrical experience in which school pupils are invited to visit a magical bric-a-brac shop, encouraging them to show an interest in creative writing.[11]
  • The Uncommercial Traveller, (2011), an experience with Arcola Theatre Over 60s theatre group inspired by the writing of Charles Dickens
  • The House Where Winter Lives (2012, 2013 & 2014), transformed the Discover Children's Story Centre in Stratford into a magical frozen forest. The project also toured to Perth International Arts Festival in 2014.
  • Up, Up And Away (2012 & 2013), a primary schools project that told the story of balloonists Marianne Montgolfier, Vincent Lunardi and Bernard Blanchard.
  • The Lost Lending Library (2013-), an immersive experience for primary schools in which a librarian shares her love of books.
  • Searching for Stories (2013-2014), a project for Westminster primary schools that began in the classroom and led pupils on a clandestine visit to Temple Studios, the location for The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable.
  • St Ethelburga's Hallowtide Fair (2014), a mysterious and magical theatrical experience made in collaboration with and for the residents of Barking and Dagenham.
  • Prospero's Island (2014)
  • Beneath the Streets I & II (2014 & 2015), a unique theatrical experience produced in collaboration with Hijinx Academy.
  • Against Captain's Orders: A Journey into the Uncharted (2015), an immersive exhibition for children at the National Maritime Museum in London.[12]
  • Greenhive Green (2016), a project for Greenhive Care Home residents, including those with dementia, in partnership with Magic Me .[13]
  • A Small Tale (2016-), a teacher-led project for primary schools.
  • The Oracles (2017), a cross-platform experience developed for school children in Haringey.
  • Small Wonders (2018 & 2019), a magical, interactive experience for children aged 5–11 years old and their families[14] at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Tottenham and Edinburgh International Children's Festival.
  • A Curious Quest (2018-), a teacher-led project for a whole primary school in which school pupils are encouraged to engage with their local history

Fallow Cross[edit]

In 2017, Punchdrunk opened Fallow Cross,[15] a unique research and development space at their home in Tottenham Hale. Set across 11,000 square feet, it was developed as a space to innovate, incubate and explore its future artistic and enrichment practice. It provided the canvas for the company to continue to push the boundaries of live performance and storytelling for a growing range of audiences.

Fallow Cross housed ideas that spanned the breadth of the company's work including core artistic activity, enrichment projects, sensory work and the intersection with new technologies. It built on the success of Punchdrunk's ambitious and transformative projects in order to devise a new generation of remarkable productions and audience experiences.

It was not a public or production space, but was used projects such as Punchdrunk Enrichment's The Oracles. It was also used for Punchdrunk's programme of workshops and masterclasses.


In a typical Punchdrunk production, audience members are free to roam the performance site, which can be as large as a five-story industrial warehouse. They can either follow the performers and themes (there are usually multiple threads at any instant), or simply explore the world of the performance, treating the production as a large art installation.[citation needed]

Masks are another signature element of Punchdrunk's work. Barret says when the company "...introduced masks, suddenly inhibition fell away and people found a sense of freedom in their anonymity, allowing them to fully explore their surroundings and become totally absorbed in the world around them."[16]

Former Secretary of State for Culture James Purnell cited Punchdrunk as an example of "access and excellence" in modern British theatre.[16]

Punchdrunk productions[edit]

Punchdrunk International Productions[edit]

Sleep No More, Shanghai (2017 - )[edit]

A re-imagined version of the original production (London, Boston and New York) set in 1930s Shanghai. Co-produced by SMG Live, Sleep No More tells Shakespeare's classic tragedy Macbeth through a darkly cinematic lens. Taking place over five floors in the Jing'An district in the city, the production is already the second longest running production in Shanghai theatre history. Sleep No More, Shanghai received the prestigious Best Breakthrough Act at Shanghai's Annual TV & Culture Awards in June 2017 and a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in Connected Immersion Theatre in November 2017.

The Third Day[edit]

The Third Day is a co-production between Sky Studios and HBO, in partnership with Plan B Entertainment, writer Dennis Kelly and Punchdrunk International. The six-part, one-hour episode limited series stars Jude Law as Sam,[9] who after being drawn to a mysterious Island off the British Coast, is thrown into the unusual world of its secretive inhabitants. The Third Day will be the first original drama to be produced by Sky's new production house, Sky Studios, and first aired in the US and the UK in 2020.


  • Machon, Josephine. The Punchdrunk Encyclopaedia, Routledge (2018).
  • Biggin, Rose. "Immersive Theatre and Audience Experience Space, Game and Story in the Work of Punchdrunk" Palgrave Macmillan, Cham (2017)
  • Machon, Josephine. Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. London: Palgrave (2013).
  • White, Gareth. "On Immersive Theatre". Theatre Research International 37.3 (2012): 221–35.
  • Machon, Josephine. (Syn)aesthetics: Redefining Visceral Performance. London: Palgrave (2009).
  • Oddey, Alison and Christine White (eds.). Modes of Spectating. Bristol: Intellect (2009).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Queen's birthday honours for Penelope Wilton, Vera Lynn and Stanley Wells | News | The Stage". The Stage. 10 June 2016. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Punchdrunk: plunge into a world of extraordinary theatre". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  3. ^ Machon, Susan. Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. London: Palgrave, 2013.
  4. ^ "Official Punchdrunk website". Punchdrunk.org.uk. Archived from the original on 13 February 2009. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  5. ^ "Punchdrunk: plunge into a world of extraordinary theatre". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  6. ^ "Punchdrunk". Arts Council England. Archived from the original on 9 January 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  7. ^ "Want to Know When Rihanna's New Album Drops? Follow This Samsung Campaign". AdWeek. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  8. ^ "Recruitment Pack for Communications Manager" (PDF). Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Jude Law to Star in Sky and HBO Drama 'The Third Day'". Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  10. ^ "Culture Whisper: Personalised guide to London's cultural scene". Culture Whisper. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  11. ^ "In conversation with Matthew Blake". Wales Arts Review. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  12. ^ "Punchdrunk". punchdrunk.com. Archived from the original on 18 January 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  13. ^ "Ground-breaking Greenhive Green by Punchdrunk". LondonTheatre1.com. 9 March 2016. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  14. ^ Hitchings, Henry (11 June 2018). "Small Wonders review: An atmospheric testament to the power of the imagination". London Evening Standard.
  15. ^ Gardner, Lyn (25 April 2017). "Welcome to Fallow Cross: inside the secret village built by Punchdrunk". The Guardian.
  16. ^ a b Higgins, Charlotte (6 July 2007). "Overthrow the tyranny of targets: minister's message for the arts". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  17. ^ a b c Andrew Eglinton, "Reflection on a Decade Punchdrunk of Theatre", in Theatre Forum 37 (2010): 46.
  18. ^ "Odyssey Works Produces Weekend-Long Theater for an Audience of One". artinfo.com. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  19. ^ "Punchdrunk website – Chair". punchdrunk. Archived from the original on 17 July 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  20. ^ "Punchdrunk website – The Tempest". punchdrunk. Archived from the original on 21 December 2009. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  21. ^ "Punchdrunk website – Sleep No More". punchdrunk. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  22. ^ "Punchdrunk : Art Trail 2004". 26 July 2004. Archived from the original on 23 September 2006.
  23. ^ Clare, Paul (11 August 2005). "The Big Chill Festival 2005 – In The Press". DJ Magazine. Archived from the original on 17 September 2006.
  24. ^ Gardner, Lyn (22 February 2005). "The Firebird Ball Offley Works, London" (PDF). The Guardian. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2007.
  25. ^ "Productions : Faust". National Theatre. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  26. ^ "Critics' Circle | Drama". Criticscircle.org.uk. Archived from the original on 27 June 2007. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  27. ^ "Productions : The Masque of the Red Death". National Theatre. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  28. ^ "Productions : Red Death Parties". National Theatre. 12 April 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  29. ^ Brown, Mark (8 May 2009). "Tunnel vision of underground art". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  30. ^ "ART website – Sleep No More". ART. Retrieved 20 December 2009.
  31. ^ a b "Punchdrunk website – Sleep No More". punchdrunk. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  32. ^ "Punchdrunk 'Immersive Theater' Group Seeks to Replace Mega Clubs in West Chelsea". DNAInfo. Archived from the original on 12 December 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
  33. ^ "New York Production (2011)". Sleepnomorenyc.com. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  34. ^ "The McKittrick Hotel". The McKittrick Hotel. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  35. ^ Preview in UrbanDaddy
  36. ^ Gardner, Lyn (8 June 2011). "The Crash of the Elysium: Punchdrunk children only". The Guardian.
  37. ^ "The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable | A Punchdrunk production at Temple Studios". Nationaltheatre.org.uk. Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2014.

External links[edit]