2007 – 2008
In September 2007 Punchdrunk’s extraordinary Masque Of The Red Death filled Battersea Arts Centre with the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. But there is a true story Poe once retold as The Gold-Bug: Rupert Grandison finds buried treasure but is betrayed by his best friend William Moray who steals the gold. Moray flees to Paris and disappears but has built a trail of codes and puzzles that will lead his heir to the treasure. Somehow, this trail is appearing within Punchdrunk’s performance like a haunting, with actors as if possessed who reveal episodes of Moray’s life. An old man, the last of the Grandison line, hires a young woman Sonia Delfont to build a website to call for help in unravelling the mystery of Moray’s disappearance and cracking his unbreakable codes. But Sonia discovers the old man knew she was herself Moray’s heir and leads a gang of hunters against the rest – including her best friend – to try to claim her own inheritance.
The Gold-Bug was a six-month adventure online, in the world and throughout the Masque. Players shared their findings and stories online, cracking puzzles and codes set by Sonia to get back-door tickets for the sold-out show. Dedicated to the hunt they solved Moray’s trail to reveal a Bach melody as the key to a clockwork piano inside a locked bloody chamber, found stories of Moray’s life and horrible death hidden in the shadows, broke into the dark theatre one Sunday night to disturb a spirit and played with and against each other ‘for real’ betrayal, subterfuge and sacrifice through an online witchhunt. The adventure culminated in a confrontation between the two factions, and after a final reconciliation, they dug up a box buried in a garden on top of which Battersea Arts Centre itself had been built to discover the final destination of the treasure and the skull of Moray himself, the source of the haunting.
An online community of 80 hardcore players aged between 18 and 57 played out the final 3 months, with 300 immersed and over 3000 casual players discovering the hunt through a mysterious hooded and masked figure playing tarot in the bar within the Masque. Some players visited the Masque up to nine times in search of clues. The archive of players’ online discussions through the hunt remains online, here.
The Gold-Bug was devised and produced by Coney. The far-distant Rabbit sent a postcard from Borges’ house in Buenos Aires to alert us all to the start of the hunt, and forwarded a telephone message at the end thanking us for helping lay his tormented friend William Moray to rest.
“I tend to talk a bit too grandly when I talk about The Gold-Bug hunt. I can’t help it, it inspires me to talk big, to talk emotionally. I want people to know how much I enjoyed taking part, and how much I appreciated it. To me, it was something new, a new medium by which to experience things. Imagine what it would be like if you had never seen a film in your whole life, only to one day have somebody usher you into a darkened auditorium and sit with you whilst you watched for the first time. The Gold-Bug hunt was my film, the Masque was the darkened auditorium, the people I met along the way sat with me.”
A participant in The Gold-Bug