The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable – A Punchdrunk production
There’s not a lot I can say about The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable without ruining it, other than, it’s not really a play, it’s more of an experience, an emotional journey. One designed to take you out of your comfort zone and make you think – even if you’re not thinking about the play itself, even if you don’t like the story, I guarantee you’ll be thinking about the dance talent, the amazing sets and the curious artefacts you’ll find along the way, for a long time afterwards. Let me also qualify this post by saying that this is not a review, I’m not a theatre critic, I just like to be entertained. And entertained I was. In fact I still am. Since seeing the play I’ve lost hours on the internet Googling reviews, reading online discussions and stalking the cast members on Twitter to see what others made of their experience.
I booked tickets upon recommendation that it would be “weird, thought provoking, like nothing you’ve ever seen before and right up my street”. I was glad I took up the suggestion and I reiterate the advice to you!
It’s a promenade performance, by the brilliant Punchdrunk, set in a disused four storey building next to Paddington station. Upon arrival you check your bags (so you don’t pilfer things from the amazingly intricate, lovingly accessorised sets), you are issued with a mask (to clearly mark out the audience from the actors), and given a slip of paper with two paragraphs which loosely detail the two parallel story lines of love, adultery, paranoia, betrayal, social struggle and murder.
You are welcomed to “Temple Studios” by a glamorous employee with a brief introduction and then you are encouraged to leave your companions behind, open your mind and follow your own path…
And for three hours that’s what I did.
I lost my family within minutes as I got my bearings in a dark “street” lined with “shops”. I found a few characters and became engrossed in their stories, following them in earnest as they tore through the “desert”, “forest” and on to “movie sets” up and down stair wells, through dimly lit corridors and feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic as I peered through key holes and “bedroom windows”. I got hot and sweaty running up and down staircases (one covered in fresh, bloody hand prints), I shivered as I watched a narrated movie scene play out on a snowy mountain and I ruined my suede boots on a sand dune and had to step through a puddle of water around a bathtub in the middle of a “chapel” in a “trailer park”.
I put those words in quotes as I was well aware I was walking on a set, amongst scenery, but the eerie lighting, disconcerting music and smells, mist and different underfoot textures made the sets feel spookily real. Although I knew I was perfectly safe and was watching a show, my over-active imagination went hell-for-leather and I had a few freak out moments as an audience member was “kidnapped” by a cast member and taken in to a locked room, and I was left virtually alone in a dark corridor next to a shrine to an “ageing actress” and was then taken by surprise by an elegantly dressed lady, appearing at my shoulder literally out of nowhere.
I know, I know. It sounds like I’m talking gobbledegook!
Well I am. And that’s all I’ve done since leaving that building, talking non-stop about how amazing it was to people who haven’t seen it, who clearly think I must be going crazy.
I managed to follow only one of the stories, albeit twice over, thus from two viewpoints, and at the climax I realised that not only was there the parallel narrative detailed on the slip of paper at the beginning, but a number of other subplots and about 10 additional members of the cast that I’d completely missed! I also had a small tantrum (in my head) at the beginning where I got all stroppy that I had absolutely. No. Idea. what was going on. But on speaking to other people, I clearly wasn’t alone at that stage.
I was also worried that I wouldn’t know when it was over, that I’d end up wandering the deserted floors until the small hours, but after a very definitive ending we filtered through in to an on-set bar to be reunited with our companions where we flitted between stunned, reflective silences and garbled chatter where we all spoke over each other in our excitement to relay the things we’d seen, done, felt, touched and experienced. Each and every one of us had seen a different story. Different details, characters, rooms and props. We’d all had utterly unique experiences within the same building in those three hours. Our discussions continued via text and email long in to the night.
Even if you don’t like it, I guarantee you you won’t regret it. You can book tickets here.
And if you’ve seen it already please, please, message or call me so I can talk to someone about it.
It seems I lied in my first line. There IS a lot I can say about this play, in fact I can’t stop saying things about this play…