Girl About Town: The Drowned Man

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.

I can’t describe it to you without ruining it for you, but I whole heartedly suggest, nay, urge you to read a few professional reviews, check out this synopsis and watch this trailer.

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…

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Girl about Town: Spice Girl Saturday

Are you female? Were you in your teens at some point in the nineties? Do you love cheesy tunes and plain old silly fun?

If so, then read read on.

When I look back on my school life and my teenage years, I see a montage of scenes flash past my eyes in vivid colour, at full volume, on fast forward and with the Spice Girls featuring heavily in the soundtrack (along with some Alanis Morisette, Robbie Williams, Madonna and some Pure Garage mix tapes – hey – don’t judge me!)

I loved the Spice Girls. Correction, I LOVE the Spice Girls. I’ve loved them since they first mimed Wannabe on breakfast TV. They inspired us to dress like divs (seriously – those Buffalos were just insane!), dance like mad girls, perform their hits in the school talent shows (prompting rows with rival groups in the playground) and shout “GIRL POWER” as a response to anything and everything.

They had attitude but weren’t bitches. They inspired outfits/hairstyles but weren’t really fashionable (sorry, Posh, you just weren’t!). They were naughty but they weren’t bad girls. They wore skimpy outfits but they weren’t slutty. They weren’t the best singers, the best dancers, the best actresses or the best looking, but in my humble, musically uneducated opinion (Penny will perhaps argue otherwise!) they were the original and BEST girl group. They worked hard, put the time and effort in, took control and responsibility, they gave it their all and seemed to have so much fun whilst they were doing it, and most importantly, they did it for the girls, not for the boys. Yes, I’m looking at you Pussy Cat Dolls! For me they were inspirational role models, and, really, when I look at them as Spice Women, they still are. Anyway, I digress.

As a big fan, I hustled hard to get tickets when they reformed for a live tour a few years ago and followed every rumour about them performing in the Olympics closing ceremony with glee. When I heard about the proposed musical being written I was over the moon and when tickets for Viva Forever! went on sale, I rounded up my musical theatre/dance school/cheese-loving friends (my “cool” friends still judge me for my love of the Spices!) and demanded that we all buy tickets… and dress up. They stalled and stalled and wouldn’t commit to a date and I started to lose hope. I thought my friends had lost their love of cheese. That would have been a sad day.

As it happens, they were stalling because they had purchased tickets for me as a Christmas present! Yippeeeeeeeeeeee

So, a few weekends ago, the five of us were discussing plans (read: “politely arguing about which Spice we were dressing up as”) when I discovered that Harvey Nichols were doing a Viva Forever! themed afternoon tea and cocktail menu in their Fifth Floor Bar and Season restaurant. Well that put the “which Spice am I?” discussions to bed, as we felt it improper turn up at Harvey Nics in full out 90s fancy dress. I mean, no one wants to see someone’s pants peeking from under a too-short Union Flag dress or five girls face-planting on the floor due to ridiculously heavy platform trainers whilst trying to enjoy their afternoon tea, do they?

The afternoon tea started off with mini savoury bites: a cured beef and chutney bagel, an egg and cress roll, smoked salmon on pumpernickel and chicken and chutney roulade in fresh white bread, which we all wolfed down in our excitement to get to the sweet treats: the Sporty Spice cake pop, the Baby Spice mousse (served in a bottle), the Ginger Spice Union Flag lemon and ginger mille feuille, the Scary Spice chilli and chocolate roll (complete with white chocolate leopard print, ahem, decoration) and the Posh Spice Harvey Nics-branded marzipan and Victoria sponge (of course) handbag. There were also the usual scones with jam and clotted cream on the menu too.

In terms of cocktails, we began with some from the standard menu (with which we were already familiar, following our cocktail masterclass back in the summer) and then we worked our way through the themed cocktails, which were delicious. It was difficult to select, but in the end I was happy with my choice of the Scary (Fresh chilli, lychee liqueur topped with Champagne), although I did manage to take a sip of all of them. We then spent the rest of the afternoon talking about our favourite Spice (mine’s Victoria – obviously), our favourite songs (mine being Who Do You Think You Are) dance routines (Spice Up Your Life) and generally making a spectacle of ourselves singing, laughing and pinning the themed bows from our cocktail glasses in our hair and to the head of our rather attentive waiter.

We were cutting it too fine to use public transport, and so, in true Spice Girls style we hailed a cab, ran down the middle of the road, piled in and squeaked, squawked and sang all the way to The Piccadilly Theatre. On arrival we were offered the opportunity to be “upgraded” to the Ambassador Lounge, a small private room with a dedicated waiter to bring us drinks and nibbles before the show and during the interval “for only a small fee”. Of course we accepted and it was all pretty exciting as it was the room the Spices themselves had used when visiting the theatre to watch the show (you can arrange this facility in advance by calling the theatre). We ordered some bubbly to sip before the show, which we then decanted in to plastic flutes to take in to the stalls with us and chatted with the waiter about any Spice Girl gossip he could give us (none!) before heading in to the show.

I won’t ruin the story line, but the same vein as Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You, the story is just a vehicle for the songs to be introduced and you can see them coming a mile off. But, as a Spice Girls fan, guessing what’s coming is one of the best bits. There are a few surprises in there too – listen out for them!

I’m not a theatre critic so I won’t analyse the staging, casting (although there were two stand outs) or scripting but it has Jennifer Saunders written all over it, which is a good thing in my book. There’s more than a hint of Eddie, Patsy and Bubble in amongst the main characters and I swear I heard one of Patsy’s Ab Fab lines crop up. If you loved Ab Fab, Ugly Betty, Glee and The Catherine Tate Show you’ll love the characters. If you follow(ed) shows like X Factor and Pop Idol you’ll recognise parodies of some very prominent characters from Saturday night TV and you’ve read Ben Elton’s Chart Throb then you’ll get the underlying message. Basically, if you read this paragraph and know what the hell I’m wittering on about, then we’re on the same wavelength and you’ll really enjoy it!

I chose not to read the reviews, but I heard that the critics panned it. Come on. It’s not Les Mis, but if you don’t expect it to be, and you can just appreciate it for what it is, then you’ll have fun. When else can you go to the theatre and, during a touching romance scene, put your arms in the air, cling tight to your best girls and sing along to 2 Become 1 at the top of your voice or stand up in the aisles and howl with laughter through the original dance routine along with the cast and the rest of the audience to Stop or Spice Up Your Life?

My suggestion? If you don’t take yourself or your theatre choices too seriously, and, of course, if you are a Spice Girls fan then get your glittery platforms on, round up your best girls for a some pre drinks and go see it!

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE!

Victoria
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  • Read more about the Viva Forever Champagne Cocktails here and the Viva Forever Afternoon Tea here.
  • Book tickets and find out more about Viva Forever, the show, here.

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.