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What links Punchdrunk’s Burnt City to Patti Smith and John McEnroe? | Punchdrunk

Punching up

The theatre company Punchdrunk has expanded what’s possible on stage – and spawned many immersive imitators. All the while, it’s reinvented classic texts in strange settings, merging theatre, dance, film and installation art, and leaving audiences dazzled and unsettled … and tired from all that walking around. Its latest is The Burnt City, based around the Trojan war, staged at its new London HQ.

Maxine Doyle and Felix Barratt of Punchdrunk…
Maxine Doyle and Felix Barratt of Punchdrunk … Photograph: Julian Abrams

This … was a fantasy

Among the Punchdrunk oeuvre is It Felt Like a Kiss, a work for the 2009 Manchester international festival, made with Adam Curtis and Damon Albarn. At the 2007 MIF, Albarn joined with Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng to stage the fantastical opera meets “rock’n’roll circus”, Monkey: Journey to the West.

Chen Shi-Zheng, with cast of Monkey: Journey to the West.
… whose past collaborator Damon Albarn also worked on a Monkey opera with Chen Shi-Zheng … Photograph: Slaven Vlašić/Getty Images

Dark days

Chen Shi-Zheng’s film debut was the little-seen Dark Matter from 2007, starring Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn and Liu Ye. In his 1980s-hunk era, Quinn starred in Susan Seidelman’s “cult feminist classic” Desperately Seeking Susan. Smithereens, the 1982 debut from Seidelman – who later directed the Sex and the City pilot – is also worth a look, with musician Richard Hell as a scuzzy hunk.

… whose film Smithereens featured Richard Hell (second left, with punk band the Voidoids …
… whose debut film starred Aidan Quinn, also in Desperately Seeking Susan by Susan Seidelman, whose Smithereens featured (second left, with punk band the Voidoids) Richard Hell … Photograph: Roberta Bayley/Redferns

You cannot be serious!

Hell was once married to the singer Patty Smyth. Not to be confused with the Patti Smith, poet-punk, who dated Hell’s one-time Television bandmate Tom Verlaine. Patti later married Fred “Sonic” Smith of MC5, while an entirely different Fred Smith took up the bass in Television after Hell quit. Patty Smyth is married to John McEnroe from the tennis. A confusing set of mixed doubles.

Patty Smyth and husband John McEnroe.
… who was married to Patty Smyth, now wed to John McEnroe … Photograph: David Crotty/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Punch back

McEnroe was previously married to Tatum O’Neal, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for Paper Moon aged 10. At that 1974 ceremony, Glenda Jackson won her second gong for best actress. An early role for the future Labour MP was in Marat/Sade – the source text was also suitable fodder for a 2005 Punchdrunk production. Jackson, meanwhile, played Lady Macbeth on Broadway in 1988, and continuing the theme, the Scottish play provided the basis for Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, one of its most celebrated shows. And so we conclude; ’twere well it were done quickly.

Glenda Jackson.
… whose ex-wife, Tatum O’Neal, won an Oscar the same year as Glenda Jackson. Photograph: Forum Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Pairing notes

Watch Punchdrunk founder Felix Barrett immersed himself in TV in 2020, co-creating The Third Day, a spooky, high-concept miniseries starring Jude Law and Naomie Harris.

Eat A short walk from The Burnt City’s south-east London setting is Maya DD’s restaurant, one of several Nepalese offerings in the area. Try the jhol momo and sel roti rice doughnuts.

Black and white cartoon rabbits going down holes in a red line

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