The Drowned Man

Only one post per play for the rest, and I am almost done with my UKROI journey in anecdotes.

The Drowned Man is a production by London’s Punchdrunk. If you are any sort of theatre fan promise yourself that you will go to one of their shows in your lifetime (or the company’s lifetime). Whether exhortatively phenomenal or just pretty darn good, any Punchdrunk show is an experience you need to have at least once. If I lived in London, I am guessing I would be just-the-sane-side of awkwardly fanatical groupie.

Punchdrunk produces immersive theatre. Rather than going to sit and watch a play, you go into the world of the narrative and literally follow the story. If you are a reader because a favorite book takes you on a journey, Punchdrunk shows are a dream come true.

I’m not sure if all shows follow this formula but the two I have seen –Sleep No More and The Drowned Man– did.

  • Commandeer (legally) a multi-story building.
  • Pick an era/atmosphere/ design theme.
  • Set-dress THE HELL out of that building (Punchdrunk sets are a MARVEL, if not always a beautiful or comfortable one).
  • Appose two narratives that share something in era/atmosphere/design/theme.
  • Figure out how to dance those two narratives (Yep, even shows with major scripts -think Shakespeare- become up to 85% movement).
  • Invite the public in to roam around anonymously (“audience” members are masked) through the show, and emerge with a load of visceral emotion, visual stimulation, narrative satisfaction, fulfilled curiosity, possibly sore legs (yep, there are stairs), and occasionally nightmares or other lingering hauntings.

Trust me. It’s a lot of fun.

The Drowned Man took an impressionistic photo of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, and then played out both the positive and negative exposures “Amidst the fading glamour of 1960s Los Angeles.” I thought the simplicity of the narrative flip was clever. I thought the set dressing was impeccable –as always. It doesn’t give too much away to say my favorite room was the Studio Executive’s office (maybe it was Studio reception?); the vintage clocks and their settings made me happy. The maintenance of the atmosphere in the bar was fantastic, particularly the band. And the cast was very good. If The Drowned Man gets exported like Sleep No More (Macbeth crossed with Rebecca) did, I’ll see it again. But…

As good as Punchdrunk is, I have one criticism: as far as I can tell every show has a thick patina of ‘creepy!’ In so much as their productions are an incredibly high-brow funhouse, this seems appropriate, but I would love to see the company stretch to stimulate and portray a greater mix of emotion –more Lewis Carroll less Michael Haneke. Speaking of which, Dear Punchdrunk, why no Lewis Carroll yet? And when will you tackle Othello?

Any Punchdrunk show is the best heebie-jeebies you’ll ever get. The Drowned Man has been extended (and extended!) to July 6th. See it. Then wait with baited breath until the next one.




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