So, have you seen it yet? Punchdrunk’s fantasy land is only going to be open to visitors for one more month, so I’d get your skates on if you want to experience what must be the most original theatrical experience on offer in London at the moment.
It’s actually been on for nearly a year – a massive word-of-mouth success, which allows visitors to roam around a four-storey set and stand amongst the action of a complex story set in a film studio and its surrounding area. All audience members are given sparse instructions – to wear their standard issue masks at all times, remain silent and to stray from their companions – a very basic outline of a plot is granted and then, bam. You’re thrown in.
It may sound surreal, but what amazed me most was how immersive it was to wander around this small world, anonymised by my mask. As the actors are bare-faced, there’s a clear line between the watchers and the watched, and the lack of conversation means that the crowd are always focussed enough to move away when the action threatens to cross their path. For three hours reality was gone, and it was even difficult to shake off the strange presence of the show in the glaring glow of the tube ride home.
The Drowned Man will be different for any visitor – each experience dependent on the serendipity of starting point, a willingness to run and follow a single character and the level of curiosity. I chose to follow one character and then another as it took my fancy, and whilst this left loose ends, there will be those for each and every viewer – there is simply too much simultaneous action for anyone to see the whole show. If you like your ends tied up neatly, then try to let it go, for it was in the conversation afterwards that the show lived on. My boyfriend and I had taken entirely different routes and seen completely different stories, enabling the discovery of the plot to continue in the pub on the way home.
It would be rude of me to give away the plot, partly to retain the suspense that is such an important part of the evening, but also because the plot isn’t the main thing about this show. It is, above all, an experience. One of my favourite bits was spending time wandering around the parts of the set that had no actors – reading a letter in a shabby caravan, examining the contents of an old fashioned toyshop and watching the image of a galloping horse cross a seemingly abandoned television set. The glory here is in the detail – the vast set is meticulous, and how on earth anyone has managed to orchestrate the show, (which runs twice in the three hours) with actors moving levels and rooms only to meet their companion for the next scene on arrival, often to begin a beautifully choreographed dance, is truly beyond me.
So head over there, embrace the madness and find your own story… Take your friends, but abandon them at the door, for finding your own way around this little world for an evening will leave you with a truly personal experience, and one that can continue afterwards… I might just go and book my return ticket to see what they can throw at me next time. Highly recommended.
The Drowned Man is on at Temple Studios (Paddington station) until July 6th 2014. Book tickets here.