Totally compelling. Mysterious, disturbing, thrilling, frightening, erotic, adventurous, voyeuristic. A knowledge of the synopsis of Woyczek helped only slightly. But - do not worry about trying to understand, and certainly do not try to see everything. Just follow your instincts and go on your own private journey. At times run with the pack, at others go off on your own and explore the rooms by yourself. You won't find them all. I ended up in an amazing Narnia at the back of the seamstresses shop, but never found the secret room behind the cinema! The set design is highly detailed and breathtaking and you can have as much fun rifling through the secrets you find behind closed doors as you can trying to follow the characters. You can get really up close and personal with the actors - almost touching - and people do. If too many people are following your character, just switch to another. There are so many mysteries to unravel. Having read a lot of reviews of 'The Drowned Man', it clearly is a marmite love it or hate it experience. Well I loved it - and would go back again and again to find out some more about the parts I didn't see. If you allow yourself to get lost in the surreal world of 'The Drowned Man' it can change the way you look at the people around you. Emerging blinking on to the streets of Paddington at the end of the show, my immediate urge was to start following random passers-by to see where their stories went! If you're very lucky, as both my partner and I were, you may get chosen by an actor to go off and have your own personal one to one experience. My partner was spirited away by a blind woman in the desert and I had a thrilling ten minute subterranean chase with a strange young man called Conrad which ended in a very grizzly discovery in a disused part of the warehouse, and him feeding me a shot of spirits through a pipette! I just can't stop thinking about this show. Ordinary theatre is going to seem a bit 'vanilla' after this.
Punchdrunk: The Drowned Man
Until Sun Jul 6
Punchdrunk, The Drowned Man
© Travis Hodges
Punchdrunk, The Drowned Man
© Travis Hodges
Punchdrunk, The Drowned Man
© Travis Hodges
Punchdrunk, The Drowned Man
© Travis Hodges
Punchdrunk, The Drowned Man
© Travis Hodges
Punchdrunk, The Drowned Man
© Travis Hodges
Time Out rating:
Not yet rated
Time Out says
Posted: Wed Jul 17 2013
Climbing on my hands and knees through a secret hatch I’ve discovered in the bottom of an old phone booth, I enter an eerie room filled with musty costumes, peopled only by a troubled-looking seamstress, who silently slips a fabric heart into my pocket. And the thought occurs to me: who could be anything other than blown away by the astonishing artificial world that immersive theatre pioneers Punchdrunk have made real in their new show ‘The Drowned Man’?
And yet… as Punchdrunk’s shows grow to such a vast size that any meaningful opportunity for the casual punter to work out what the hell is going on flies out of the window, I experience the peculiar sensation of being simultaneously overawed and a bit dissatisfied.
The hyper-detailed, spectacularly eerie environments that directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle and team have created over four enormous floors of an old building next to Paddington station are mindblowing. The so-called ‘Temple Studios’ is a creepy ’60s Hollywood film studio of almost unimaginable scale that audiences are free to wander around at leisure.
In its shadowed recesses, there’s a spooky old town, half Wild West, half ’50s America. There’s a monochrome, malevolent Lynchian dancehall. There’s any number of candlelit shrines of ambiguous religious provenance. There is a bar, complete with its own band, in which you can slip off the mask you’re required to wear at all other times. There is a whole desert on the top floor. Menacing electronic music and Spector-esque strings howl from hidden speakers constantly.
It is like being in the world’s greatest haunted house… but am I being a total bore to wish it could be more than that? ‘The Drowned Man’ is very loosely based upon Georg Büchner’s tragedy ‘Woyzeck’, and a pamphlet given to us at the start offers some hints about a plot that I vaguely recognised in meetings with the show’s wandering actors. I didn’t doubt that there was a plot. But it’s simply impossible to get one’s teeth into these cryptic, largely silent encounters, so atomised are they throughout the gargantuan structure.
Where previous shows like ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ or ‘It Felt Like A Kiss’ immersed you in a narrative you could get your teeth into, ‘The Drowned Man’ is like watching a blue whale glide by an inch from your face, simply too big to take in.
As pure spectacle, Punchdrunk are now operating on a level that makes criticism basically redundant. But in terms of straight-up theatre, they have made better.
By Andrzej Lukowski
Average User Rating
3.5 / 5
- 5 star:44
- 4 star:4
- 3 star:7
- 2 star:4
- 1 star:24
Surreal and thoroughly enjoyable. With such a huge space to wander around, and scenes often very short and quiet, I can completely understand how some might have not followed what was going on at all. But we heard one simple bit of advice on the way in; "find a story and follow it". I wholeheartedly agree with that, after finding a character of interest, following them through their various encounters with other characters will build the full picture, no matter who you chose to follow. If you lose them, just find another and carry on. Wandering around aimlessly and dipping in and out of bits of the story won't get you very far. Also the little handout at the beginning is definitely worth a read, just explaining the gist of the two main story lines, making the later character meetings make more sense.
With dramatic use of lighting, sound, and "sets" that vary from exquisitely detailed to vast and bare, it a very enjoyable and unique experience.
The Drowned Man is very poor value for money. Punchdrunk and NT are just conning theatre-goers this time. The production website promises a progressive theatre experience, allowing open-hearted audience members a dynamic, interactive and non-linear plot within a creative set. I paid £37.50 to walk around an empty set an occasionally stumble across a half-baked expressive dance with some dialogue (drowned out by the poor sound effects). This is an example of concept before quality. There is simply no theatrical merit and NT are in complete denial about it. This show is piggy-backing off the success of similar productions (which were half the price and infinitely better) and is conning theatre-goers out of a lot of money. The only people that should be drowned are the production team. I have applied for a refund.
Where are the ten stars when you need them? The Drowned Man is an absolute drop-everything-and-go type of experience, one that you need to see to believe. An absolute all-encompassing spectacle, immersing you in cities within cities. Hint: Ditch your friends at the door and go it alone. Finally- embrace each and every encounter- If you're lucky, you may even have the pleasure of removing a moustached drag queen's stockings off!!
Best theatrical performance of my life. I´ve got my tickets for my third time in it. A good advice, stick up to an actor/actress and follow them until they stop you somehow. Really recommendable, hope the same company remains in the same venue with different stories.
compelling and amazing story and experience. The best theatre experience I have ever had. Go and see it and be free - walk around and follow a character. Jane
Dynamic, original, and thought provoking, this refreshing interactive performance offered something totally different to the norm. The sets haunt your mind with curiosity, and the splitting stories encourage you to (literally walk) to follow your own instincts and interest. An incredibly immersive, independent, vibrant experience.
I was looking forward to this so I was completely open minded going in. I spent the first 10 minutes trying to find some inkling of story line. I couldn't hear what the actors were saying and hadn't a clue who to follow. I kept getting caught up in hoards of people filing up and down the bottlenecks that were the stair cases. The story line is boring and the whole theme is utter nonsense. Having said that, the studio lighting, set and sound effects were impressive. This is not a cheap show either..save your money. Avoid.
the story may be hard to follow but i'm not sure that's relevant....in an ideal world, i'd dispense with all attempts at narrative and throw in some avant-garde music eg. Ligeti, Stockhausen but let's be thankful for what there is. only a few weeks left to see what is surely the most spectacular show in town.
I found The Drowned Man absolutely spectacular. The sets are so elaborate, the dancing and the movement of the actors beautiful and the entire feel of the production - Mind-blowing. I have now been to the production 3 times with 5 more booked. After my first visit I was unsure if I absolutely loved it or if I felt a bit lost. And I guess that might be the only criticism, that the story can be a bit hard to follow. My tip is to get lost in the space, look through the rooms, and you find an interesting character, follow!!! Maybe you´ll be as hooked as I am!
Quite the worst theatrical experience of my life. Utterly pointless twaddle. Amazed at the number of five star reviews. I tried, honest I did. It was their failure, not mine, really.
I cannot give justice to how dire this is. Room after room of am dram and dry ice while having to wear a cut price version of an eyes wide shut mask. Dull and silly wandering round in silence and in the dark after actors hamming it up in a very average whodunit. Avoid
For promenade theatre that has become popular in london this is weak. As always lots of amazing sets and money spent well but poor poor dialogue so dull that it could hardly be regarded as performance. Try harder punch drunk surely you can do better than this ?
A show you won't forget: similar to going to see a total solar eclipse and seeing total cloud. The show is so fractured that you have no idea who people are or what the plot is about. There must be about 20 actors who are performing short scenes in a huge warehouse on four floors which makes a soup of incoherent images. Indeed, the vast majority of time is spent looking for these short scenes, before being herded into the final scene hours after passing the boredom threshold. A show you won't forget for the wrong reasons. (1star is generous)
extraordinary show that gives you back what you are giving. only place where you can be lost alone in woods in london.
This was truly an incredible thing to be able to experience. I have never seen anything like the level of production, set design or totally immerse nature of the building. It was like a never ending labyrinth of story lines, dance, drama and emotion. At times the crowds forming around the actors were frustrating so if you do go i would encourage you to walk away from the crowds and find your own story. Apart from the unbelievable creativity; i think the actors did a great job at creating intrigue with an admittedly loose plot line. The dancing and fluidity of their movements both with the set and with each other made the performances seem spontaneous and unplanned. Everyone who goes will have a totally different take on the Punchdrunk style and no two people will have the same experience so i can accept its not for everyone. I would go if you are adventurous, open, brave and curious! For me being whisked into a darkened room, blindfolded, spun around and splashed with rose water by a Spanish witch chanting was a personal highlight.. why did that happen? I have no idea! But i'm definitely glad it did. I feel very lucky to have been able to experience it and i applaud everyone who has put their time into creating such an unbelievable show!!!
Amazingly immersive experience. At times when shadowing particular characters (notably the studio director) I felt as if I had fallen into and started wondering around the Half Life game-verse. The show was most satisfying when story-arc's linked....even when separated. One of the most enjoyable nights out I have ever had in London.
fragmental beauty in a sea bottom after titanic ,resembling the Artificial Intelligence by Kopola end in an immersed metropolis, looking for relics of human life, so following the steps of big storytelling but creating an elegy of what 21 century will look back at--
Not quite sure of the story and I hate masks too, which freaked me out a little, but I still had a good experience walking around looking at all the scenes and watching characters. We had been upgraded so we started off a little differently and also had access to the 'control' room...wasn't worth it as I still didn't understand, but that's just me...artistically at was amazing...but perhaps see it ten times and follow a different character each time....?!
I urge you to avoid this production but if you have bought a ticket don't go, save some money buy not getting there and save 3 hours of your life that you will never get back. This production is self-indulgent, incoherent, boring, unstructured and benefits only the money men and the egos of the director and actors. Actually I feel for the actors as being in this show must be like a living hell. There are two good points 1) The set(s) and 2) I will never have to go again.
If you want to watch something extraordinary go and watch it. But be aware that this is not a traditional theatre. I would suggest it to anyone . Try to live your own story don't follow the crowd running everywhere that the actors are going. Make your own way through explore the rooms and a story will unfold. Don't try to control it, this is not a detective adventure.
I had the pleasure of this "experience" last night, and I was completely blown away. That said, sympathising somewhat with this reviewer, I offer some tips to get the most out of the experience: 1) It pays to go off the beaten path. You're free to completely explore the "world", and the best comparison I can find is the experience of wandering through the open world of a video game, digging through the personal belongings of Non-Player-Characters (this includes unsealing letters, which are always a treat!) 2) That said, despite the temptation to flit from place to place, seeing everything, you need to occasionally pick a main character to follow for a good amount of time (at least 2 contiguous scenes). I have no idea how 90% of the other stories played out, but I at least saw enough key moments in the lives of two characters to piece their narrative together afterwards. Unlike Time Out, I'd argue that's one of the pleasures of the piece: the knowledge that it's a living, breathing world and that you're only getting a glimpse of it. 4) There are some obvious main characters (see #3 above), but it does pay off to occasionally pick a secondary character to follow. I'd argue against spending the whole night *just* watching secretaries, security guards, and seamstresses doing their thing, but if you do pick at least one such character to follow for a while, it could be interesting! Last rule: there are no rules! Whatever you put into it, is what you'll get out of it!
I went to see The Drowned Man last night. The sets were amazing and the attention to detail was spectacular. However quite what the 'performance' was about, I have absolutely no idea. Presumably there was some sort of plot that was not apparent to me, there was no dialogue and it seems that I was supposed to cobble together some sort of comprehensible story from the few bits of overacting and over-zealous interpretative dance that I bore witness to. I was relieved to eventually find the bar where thankfully I was finally able to remove the uncomfortable mask and I looked forward to a much needed break, sit down, and opportunity to talk briefly to my friend. However the bar it transpires is not a sanctuary for the audience but yet another 'set' and shortly after our arrival the Thesps once again arrived to 'entertain' us making conversation impossible. I remain utterly perplexed as to the purpose of this 'performance'.
The set was amazing, and immersive exploration of it was exciting and interesting for about an hour, after which the novelty wore off and I found myself tiring of going from room to room looking for storyline "clues". I couldn't relate to the characters as there were only snippets of the plot coming through. Without a cohesive storyline and character development, the experience was a fail in terms of telling a story -- arguably this is the key aspect of theatre. After three hours, a member of staff told me to go to the ending, which seemed curious because an ending requires a start, and a middle, neither of which were present in any meaningful way. Ultimately the experience was lacking but it was an interesting night out.
Having been 'immersed' in this production for 3 hours I desperately wanted to emerge with an experience to cherish. I did - it was the exit. To be fair, the set is interesting, if you like 1960s museum pieces and the music was atmospheric, although some of the better ambient stuff was loud like overhead thunder, rather spoiling the effect. I quickly gave up on the plotline and cast so that I could avoid boredom and observe the crowd, who get 5 stars for entertainment value. They broke down into 4 categories: those who know what they are watching; those who know nothing of what they are watching; those who don't know nothing of what they are watching; and, those who don't know they don't know what they are watching. You have been warned.
from the comments section underneath a rather tepid Guardian review, this is the viewpoint which chimed most with my own experience of this OUTSTANDING show: "I thought it was amazing - but we did spend most of our time exploring the world and avoiding the crowd (even though the crowd was where the action was, literally). I'd never been to a Punchdrunk production before and didn't know what to expect. And it felt something akin to this: 1) Like walking into a Mike Nelson installation except one in which he'd created a series of landscapes, rather than just a few rooms. We were completely absorbed in the detail and stories embedded in the sets, the trailers, the cabins, the letters and photos hidden in books and drawers. 2) Like being inside a film, but on the fringes of the all the important stuff (a mash-up of film noir, southern gothic and rosencrantz and guildenstern being dead), where the action was always going on elsewhere, so every now and then we stumbled upon some action, or it stumbled on us, and then it rushed off taking the crowd with it. 3) Like witnessing some momentous event, but only a part of it, and knowing that we had glimpses of a complete story, and that was enough. Like life then. Completely amazing. Couldn't tell you what happened though."
Very easy to see why people don't "get it".. This was my second Punchdrunk theatre experience, following The masque of the Red Death - where I too wondered round a building thrilling myself from the adrenalin rush of being a bit scared of the unknown. Had very little idea what was going on in terms of a linear story. But. At the beginning of The Drowned Man, you're given a piece of paper with the plot (that means story) written on it. The rest of the show is left for you to give meaning and relevance to. If you require spoon feeding in order to form the basis of a good evenings entertainment, perhaps this show isn't for you. Stay at home. Stick to Eastenders.
Stunning. The detail to essence and looped staging is amazing. Self-indulgent? Absolutely. It indulge's the individual audience's self, completely. Theatre of the future. Need to see it again. You have to surrender yourself and not stick to your friends. Read Buchner's Woyzek which you can find for free online before you go. It helps to frame the experience. The story of the building in which it occurs alone is intriguing. Gorgeous.
The biggest pile of pretentious, self indulgent bumfluffery I have experienced in a very long time! I would rather have been sick through my eyeballs!
"You waste a lot of time wandering around the terrific sets" to quote a review I read somewhere else. I beg to differ for the precise reason that the sets are indeed " terrific" and repay close attention. For example there was a charming book in one of the rooms entitled "Party games for Everyone" from 1962, and other rooms filled with evocative aromas, and an entire floor which i missed on an earlier visit to the show. As for the Woyzeck based narrative which some people complain they can't follow. I believe this is of secondary importance, bordering on irrelevant. Essential as a kind of backbone on which to mount this amazing spectacle but that's about it.
The set's the star - for its scale, detail and the things it makes you feel. I lost my friends at the crossing of two lines of masked people. I followed others blindly into a creepy doctors examination, then to a place where an actress can't bring herself to kill her adulterous husband; I followed a character downstairs to a lost dance that turns into an orgy. Then somehow I lost any sense of narrative and I made my way onto an empty floor that was just desert. A mourner in a funeral isn't made of straw after all, I'm lost and scared. A character comes in followed by a masked entourage, a setting sun becomes a beautiful murder. I became tired of being scared, a trannie in a tent is doing a routine I saw upstairs in a bar, and I can't be bothered to work out why... I'm tired of being scared and I follow the jazz to the real bar where I cowardly wait. I'm relieved to see my friends, glad to leave, yet this morning my head is full of it and I'm wondering if I should go back for more.
Three loves of my life came together in this amazing piece: Fringe Theatre, Great Bars and Cool Music. Punchdrunk have created something truly special at "Temple Studios". It won't appeal to all, and my wife would not give it the 5 stars I award. However, for me two and a half hours of discovery with occasional excerpts leading me eventually to a bar and band that I only wished existed outside this surreal fiction, made for a near perfect Friday night out.
It was like wandering around in some vast David Lynch movie set. Sometimes as if all your nightmares and dreams have been rendered in reality. The narrative side of the show didn't hold my interest so I focused on the endlessly fascinating set (the star of the show) and for this 'The Drowned Man' is one of the most riveting pieces of theatre I've attended. I shall certainly be returning. In-spite of polarized reviews, interest in this show has been considerable (Madonna, for what it's worth attended a performance) so i do hope that this level of publicity will ensure monumental funding for future shows, and raise the pay-packet (desultory on all accounts) of the wonderful artists involved.
First of all, I can understand why some people wouldn’t enjoy this, and I imagine it’s made slightly worse by the price from their point of view. I’m not a massive dance fan, and there’s a fair bit of it here. I thought this was about as memorable as theatre can be, even though it probably isn’t usually my kind of thing. The Drowned Man is worth a visit just for the set and the atmosphere alone. If you’ve ever enjoyed a David Lynch film, or want to experience the oppressive overhang of nightmarish surroundings, but in a lucid state, this should be the next thing you go and see. The story itself is fairly depressing (infidelity, jilted lovers and failing careers), and there are two very similar threads running concurrently. Admittedly it can be difficult to keep up with the performers, particularly if people get in your way. Forget going around with your friends because you won’t really experience the production as it was intended, i.e. in a unique, personal way. You’ll also probably lose the characters you’re trying to keep up with. I can’t over-emphasise just how vivid and saturating the atmosphere of dread, lies, and misery really is. Without going into too much detail, a good example was wondering into a bar and seeing a woman (one of the main characters) sinking shots alone before getting up, walking across the room to the mic and belting out a tortured and powerful song with despair written all over her, obviously spurred on by her failing relationship. It’s chilling, and very difficult to get out of your head. The same can be said for most of the sound throughout the set; it doubles the impact of everything from the surroundings to the action taking place within them. Even though it costs £50 a throw I’ll be going back to see more, and if I had the money I’d probably go again after that. A must see, even if only to confirm that you don’t like this sort of thing (as I initially did).
The emperor is not wearing any clothes. This was a load of old twaddle. I like my stories to have a beginning,a middle and an end. I headed for the exit after two hours. Its always good to try these things out but not only was it not worth the premium ticket price I paid. Its just that I could have gone elsewhere to see a decent play. Just as well the audience was wearing masks so we could see each other expressions of WTF
A love triangle that leads to a murder in a film studio. Sounds like a fairly conservative story line. There is nothing conservative about this piece of theatre. We are asked to wear white masks and are led into dark spaces and suddenly I find myself witnessing a scene. As soon as this finishes I have to make my mind up real quick as which actor I'm going to follow to his/her next scene, somewhere in this dark maze (building), or when you lose him/her, the expressionless mass that seems to know where it is going. At the end you might find out you have missed a few scenes or are not quite able to sew the narrative together...it doesn't matter, it is certainly an interesting experience!
Amazing experience. Everyone should see and experience this. The sets and scale of the place is phenomenal. It stays with you for days after you have seen it. What ever you do explore all the floors, go it alone and explore. It is worth the price of the ticket. Go!
This was an amazing experience - you are taken into a completely different world where you can follow the story or imagine what the story might be - as you wander into a motel room a man leaves and the girl cries on the bed - or you find yourself alone in the basement and suddenly surrounded by beautiful dancers - there is nothing like this anywhere else. People - go an see this - the sets alone are things of great artistic beauty - a whole town created on one floor. It will stay with you for days. The dancing is truly beautiful and in fact beyond the show itself it is like you are watching some of the most moving and spellbinding contemporary dance. I cannot recommend more - you will not have a more interesting and unique night anywhere in London.
Floating from room to room, through hidden doors and David Lynchian light-scapes, I could’ve done anything behind the anonymity of my mask. Could’ve groped his bum, then run through the blue sand dunes into the red dance hall, where drowned bodies adorned the floor in the gloom. Incredible set but excruciatingly angsty and appeared to have been designed with the idea of creating as many make-out spots as possible in mind. Sweat trickled into my eyes...
Saw The Drowned Man yesterday and absolutely loved it. How can people give this one star? I'm certainly not 'into' contemporary dance but both myself and my partner really enjoyed this. I started 'upstairs' and found this storyline much easier to follow than the 'downstairs' one. I strongly recommend splitting up and exploring on your own, as you are advised on the way in - my partner was reluctant at first (!) but I can't imagine how you have any chance of keeping up with the story if trying to keep an eye on your friends as well. Given that you're not allowed to talk and the masks hide facial expressions there isn't any benefit to me from sharing the experience - we had much more fun comparing notes at the end in the bar! Also by being on your own you are more likely to have a one on one with an actor. Mine involved sharing a drink then being blindfolded and led on an intense journey through the 'wilderness'. I really want to go again to explore the film studio story in more detail. Go with an open mind and don't be put off by the overly critical reviews.
Self-indulgent dross. If you are happy to pay £50 to wander round a hot warehouse wearing a mask, being forced to listen to piped music and to watch intermittent and hilariously bad dancing (think drama school luvvie being given an electric shock), then by all means go. Pretentious and pointless. So bad.
One of the most surreal cultural experiences i have ever had in London. Watching the people watching what's going around them is a show of its own. Props and set are done in perfection. Amazing experience for everyone - i will definetely go again as every time is going to be something different and there was so much to take on.
Just been to see The Drowned Man - in a word - jawdropping (or is that two?). Scanning through the reviews this one has really polarised people; I'd say to anyone reading these Time Out crits - ignore the idiots who gave this one star, for the scale, beautiful set design, incredible soundtrack and seemingly infinite exploration possibilities this production deserves 5 stars - there must some horrifically cynical Londoners out there who take pleasure in trashing something like this. Admittedly the ticket price is high but for me it was worth every penny, and it was truly like entering a waking dream/nightmare. Yes there's dancing here - and at best it's wonderfully stylised and choreographed, at worst a series of fun semi/imporovved moves, most of the routines are slinky, sexualised and athletic - it aint ballet but so what the performers do very well - fact. People have complained about the lack of narrative - yes there's a story to this show but it's FAR more about building a bad-dream atmosphere than trying to tell a conventional narrative, if you're about to see the show go in with this in mind and you'll have an amazing time. Even if there were no actors the set alone is worth a healthy ticket price but of course that's not all you get, and wandering round on your own, following actors, drifting from the herd and discovering as many secrets as you can is all part of the fun. Immense fun. Punchdrunk bring to life the games of make-believe you might have played as a kid - only now it's real, catered for your adult self and more detailed and fun than you could ever have imagined.... Hats off (and everything else off judging by some of the performers) to the Punchdrunk company and its inspired leader mr Barrett, you're all legends and I for one am coming back for a second time - the Drowned Man definitely deserves to be a recurring dream.
I was squealing with delight internally (and sometimes loudly) the whole evening. I have been to Punchdrunk shows before, and they just work for me. The sheer scale of the clockwork of riddles gives me a real sense of freedom, as I know I am not going to run out of things to explore any time soon. The total physical commitment to a crazy vision, embodied by the enormity, complexity, and immaculate detail of the set, and the dancers/actors, just makes me happy (even though the heady mix of madness, jealousy, power, and murder isn't exactly cheerful). And while I very much enjoy the physical and sensory aspects of their work in a way that is anything but rocket science, the worlds-folded-within-worlds construct that I can pick away at with my mind for days thrills me. If you like riddles and physicality, and have a bit of a forensic mind, I hazard a guess that you might love this.
I certainly had a unique experience. It's the only time I have hyperventilated at a theatre show. This was brought on by a combination of having to wear an uncomfortable mask, the drenching stage smoke, the almost pitch black rooms without obvious exits (the lift was padlocked and the Fire Exits said they were alarmed), and the 'white noise' constantly playing. I endured an hour and a half of walking through dark rooms of woodchip, sand, water, 'dead' mannequins, etc and failing to see any acting that was not in the form of pretentious dance or self-indulgent displays of nudity (all the actors seemed to take their clothes off for no apparent reason.) The set was completely amazing but I suspect that all the money from the expensive tickets (almost £50) had gone on that ambitious set and there was nothing left for a plot, storyline or anything else. Nobody asked if I was okay when I left early and collected my bag, and nobody asked me if I liked it. It was really difficult to find the exit and the whole experience seemed like a lesson for me in trying to overcome my claustrophobia; a challenge which I failed.
I was so sure I would love it that I bought enough tickets to go twice, but I walked out disappointed the first time. The set is incredible - huge, detailed, carefully realised. Not a single item out of place. But there is nothing to do with the set - no interaction, no fun, no play. At least in other places like this you can pick up a pen and write, or play with a robotic machine, or walk into a tunnel of newspaper. Not here. You can only look, and walk around, like much of this play, from behind your white mask, always removed. Therefore you turn to the other option - chasing around the main characters. You're warned off doing this - but if you don't chase them, you lose any kind of action, and end up walking around in the dark for a while on your own. There simply aren't enough actors to fulfil the desire of a hundred stampeding white masked audience members. And there certainly isn't enough story. I walked and walked for three hours during this play but was often left watching a woman put on makeup, or sob, for fifteen minutes at a time. Every piece of action was either a lustful dance or an angry dance. As I was watching another pair of actors dance around each other, I realised that I was simply incredibly bored. There were symbolic moments that seemed to hold more promise, but without any real storytelling, you had no emotional investment or understanding of them. This is immersive only in the sense that you're there: there is no room to create your own story, or choose to interact with cast yourself. To top it off, it is incredibly hot in there and sweat constantly trickles down your mask. I believe in being child-like and wondering and curious, but this performance brought out none of those things for me. There was no play in the play.
Like shopping for a story in Abercombie & Fitch; painful. Beautifully set stage but I'm afraid I couldn't connect with the performance at all.
The (honest) truth about Punchdrunk’s ‘The Drowned Man’. It is deliciously dark. It is a beautiful and detailed set, within a very large space. You will walk far. There are performers, several themes, an audience and you. There are stairs and there are doors, some locked, some open, some not instantly recognisable. There are too many rooms to explore in one visit so don’t try, don’t rush. You wear a mask throughout the performance, unless in the bar. Your mask is magical; enjoy it, it will provide you with anonymity. Like a ghost you roam invisible, alone I suggest. Even though you may at times be within a crowd your mask emotionally isolates you, it allows you to decide for yourself your feelings without being influenced by ‘the crowd’. While watching a performance, take a moment to view the crowd, a truly surreal experience. Your mask has another exquisite purpose; your emotional isolation means you get little or no eye contact, so when you do (hopefully) get a one on one performance, the eye contact is so intense, so rich, it becomes memorable like your first day at school, your first solo bike ride, your first kiss. Hopefully you will find the ‘secret’ tunnels, paths, doors, rooms, performances. The ploughed field through the trap door is bizarre, as is the cobweb covered dining room complete with aged butler and the classroom where it always rained is very strange. Hopefully you will be led very gently by the hand of a performer through a maze of soft velvet drapes into a private space, have your mask removed and experience whispered words from lips that brush your ears, receive mysterious messages or tokens, have your hair stroked menacingly by an old white haired crone, be tucked in bed by a clown and read an evil bedtime story, or wander onto a stage with a dancer frozen on the edge of a pirouette. Whatever your experience, give in to it and enjoy it for the gift it is. I wish the ticket price was less so I could go more often (my only gripe). That said it is well worth the money. Should you go you may have an experience that will stay with you for long time after the finale and colour your dreams and thoughts for many days and nights later. Buy a ticket or 2 and go with curiosity in your eyes, adventure in your heart and with the spirit of a wily old fox remembering, “..some days chicken, some days feathers..” Some of what you have just read is the truth, some my imagination, some a sweet cloudy mix of them both. Isn’t that essentially what our own reality is when viewed by others?