Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Drowned Man – Punchdrunk (Round 3)

I am usually dubious about going to see a show multiple times.  I know of people who proudly proclaim to have seen Les Miserables 8+ times.  In my experience, particularly with West End musicals, the first time always amazing, because everything is new; the jokes are fresh, the plot twists take you by surprise.  But with repeat visits (especially when there has been a change of cast), you know exactly what’s coming so you don’t get the same surprise and it’s not ‘quite’ the same as last time.  I’m no fan of James Corden, but he was Francis Henshall in my first visit to One Man, Two Guvnors and for me, no one could ever match that performance, let alone top it.  So I am usually slightly disappointed at the end and wish I’d seen something else.

So why see The Drowned Man for a third time?  And why have I booked another 3 visits for 2014?  Because providing you take a different route and make different choices each time, you will always come across different characters and different fragments of stories.  The world of Temple Studios becomes strangely familiar.  I now have a good grasp of the geography of the building and each floor.  On my first visit, I was unprepared and found the whole thing quite overwhelming, but still enjoyed it.  But I have now become far more relaxed about making spontaneous decisions and being distracted (or refusing to be distracted).

But friends had started mentioning 1:1 performances, where a character will select a member of the audience and take them off to be locked in a room for a private encounter.  (Yes I know exactly what you’re thinking – bear with me).  On visit #2 I was vaguely aware of them, but not sure of how to go about giving myself the best chance of being chosen.  My handbag is only small, but I decided to leave it with the cloakroom this time.  Bingo.  As I discovered, even the smallest bag would’ve made it difficult for the actors to physically manipulate you (yes, yes, bear with me…).

I racked up four 1:1s in one night; in most cases, the character wants to let you in on a secret or tell you their side of the story.  The door is locked not to stop you from getting out, but to stop anyone else from intruding on what is a very personal experience.  This is an extra detail to the story and it is just for you.  They will not harm you or touch you inappropriately (they’d have a lawsuit on their hands if they did), but they will invade your personal space and touch e.g. your hands, arms, shoulders, waist, back.  They might switch the lights out or blindfold you.  They might even give you a shot of whisky.  If you are not comfortable with this concept, I would suggest not putting yourself in a position where you’ll be selected.  If they offer their hand to you, you can always politely refuse.  If you take it, there is no going back!  Every time I took the hand, I had that knot in my stomach;  you are held on that knife-edge between terror and curiosity – a combination of “Oh my God!  Where are you taking me?!” and “Oooh, where are we going?”

I found myself following Romola, the receptionist; she was on the floor scribbling on a piece of paper, so I knelt down to see what she was writing.  She looked me square in the eyes, so I held her gaze.  Then she offered her hand.  I took it and followed her into a motel room, wondering what the hell I was letting myself in for.  She took off my mask and held me close as she told me about her dream and how she was desperately trying to remember something.  She then took me to sit with her in the front seats of the car, very much in view of the audience who’d been waiting for us to come out of the motel.  She was clinging onto my hand quite tightly, then she went still and her grip loosened.  Words poured out of the car radio that she’d been found dead at the canyon.  I felt compelled to stay with her for a minute or two.  It’s very easy to become emotionally involved with a character after a 1:1.

Romola’s list – she gave it to me to decipher.

It does seem however that the 1:1 is a fickle thing and elusive.  Not all characters do them and it’s a combination of being in the right place at the right time (including your proximity to them) and how engaged you are.  If you’re too stalkerish and pushy, they’ll just pick someone else. If you are the only person following them, this may coincide with one of their time slots to do a 1:1 and will increase your chances of getting one (my second one was a bit of an accident – I’d lost the person I was following so decided to just follow whichever actor I saw next and pick up their storyline.  One came running past, so I ran after him and I was the only one there – so within 10-15 seconds of latching onto him, a 1:1 was offered!  It did feel a little futile given that I had no idea of who his character was…).  If they offer their hand, be brave and take it – absorb yourself in their story.  After every single one, I walked out with a bit of an adrenaline buzz.

Sometimes you will find a character by themselves, no other audience about, quietly doing something.  Even though you haven’t been taken off and locked in a room with them, this can still be a deeply personal experience.  One of my favourite moments was watching the security guard sitting in his office doing a detailed sketch of a rose from a book.  When I went back later, by sheer coincidence, it was evidently the same part of his loop and he was working on the shading and colouring.  A ‘proper’ 1:1 is a nice perk, but it’s by no means an essential part of your visit.  But as with all these things, the old adage of “you’ll find it when you stop looking for it” is very true!

But a small part of me hopes I’ll get another one on a future visit – they are fascinating….

‘The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable’ by Punchdrunk is on at Temple Studios, 31 London Street, W2 1DJ until Sunday 23rd February.  PLEASE NOTE: This is a promenade (walking) production – comfortable footwear recommended.  Running time will be up to 3 hours depending on your entry time.  You will be masked for the duration of the performance (masks may only be removed in the bar area and at the end of the performance); contact lenses would be preferable over glasses.  Age restriction 16+ years.  All 16 and 17 year olds must be accompanied by an adult.  May contain nudity.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable

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The Drowned Man – Punchdrunk (second helpings)

I won’t lie.  I have spent a good part of this morning going through the National Theatre’s ticket page to see when I’d be able to go again before the prices go up on 10th December.  I’ve identified a few windows of opportunity (I’m not addicted, I can quit any time I like – the fact that I’m going next Wednesday is irrelevant).  After last night’s show, I joined some fellow repeat offenders in a Paddington pub for dinner and a post-show analysis.  I felt like a complete novice with only 2 visits under my belt, especially given that some people were already into double figures and in a blatant display of Punchdrunk nerdism (reminiscient of the convention geeks from Galaxy Quest), someone had made a map of the whole building.  My kinda people!

This is a show which only gets richer and more rewarding with every visit, so it’s not hard to see why some people are going back over and over again.  My first trip was back in July, and as soon as I stood on the gantry, I was wondering why it had taken me 4 months to come back (in all fairness, a summer of rehearsing then performing Boeing Boeing, then a salsa weekend and a small bit part in After the Dance might be something to do with it).  But this time I knew exactly what I was in for and had a vague grasp of what was on each floor.  But even so, I was still in for plenty of surprises.

The most important thing to remember is that with 34 actors scattered across the whole building, all with their own things to do whether you are there or not, you will, by default, miss about 90% of what is going on.  So find yourself a performer and follow them.  If you find two and they split off in different directions, make a decision quickly and go with it (I still had trouble with this at times, especially when there were 8 characters in one room); there are no wrong choices, but if you watch a scene and the room empties and you don’t go with them, it may take you a while to find a character again.  Do explore, but following characters will give you more fragments of the story.

This time I thankfully managed to find a scene within a minute of getting out the lift – I also got to see more scenes with speech (last time was mostly movement), and by latching onto characters, I actually discovered rooms I never found last time – and I really thought I’d scoured every inch of the building from top to bottom!  I had also managed to get my head around the ‘loop’ concept; every character goes through 2 and a half loops of their action across the 3 hours before we all end up in the wilderness for the final murder.  So it does repeat itself, but it’ll probably be about an hour and 10 minutes before you see the same scene again.  What I find most amazing is how the action can be both cyclical AND sequential.  By following Lila (one of the peripheral characters) for one whole loop, I discovered Stanford’s office, a sound effects room and a cinema – but there was no obvious beginning or end to her story, it was absolutely seamless.

A word of advice – the cloakroom staff were quite keen for me to take my coat in, insisting that it was about as warm inside as it was standing in the loading bay in November.  I am prone to feeling cold, but remember that you will spend that 3 hours (or less, depending on your entry time) walking around, often at quite a pace, up and down flights of stairs.  I was wearing a long top, cardi, jeans and boots and I was quite comfortable like that, although the staircases are a bit nippy, but you’re rarely there for long.  This time it was considerably less humid – a big advantage when wearing a plastic mask for 3 hours.  But it’s still worth taking tissues to wipe your face intermittently!

I am already stupidly excited to be going back on Wednesday – I am going to be insufferable for the next 5 days.  I doubt Wednesday will be my last; if I am bankrupt by Christmas, you will know why.

‘The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable’ by Punchdrunk is on at Temple Studios, 31 London Street, W2 1DJ until Sunday 23rd February.  PLEASE NOTE: This is a promenade (walking) production – comfortable footwear recommended.  Running time will be up to 3 hours depending on your entry time.  You will be masked for the duration of the performance (masks may only be removed in the bar area and at the end of the performance); contact lenses would be preferable over glasses.  Age restriction 16+ years.  All 16 and 17 year olds must be accompanied by an adult.  May contain nudity.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable

Once Upon a Christmas – Covent Garden (Look Left Look Right)

Would you like to see a pantomime that’s a little bit different?  Oh yes you would!  Having caught the immersive theatre bug again recently, I was intrigued how a well known format such as panto could possibly work in promenade.  Especially given that this requires you to go either by yourself or in a pair.  So off I went to Covent Garden for a bit of interactive festive fun, courtesy of Look Left Look Right theatre company.  This performance is full of surprises, so I don’t want to spoil too many!

Stepping into a small doorway in a road just off the main Piazza, I was led into a small waiting room and asked to drink some ‘Elfa-seltzer’ (in order to be able to see the elves) and shown into an office where Martin the admin elf was having an expletive-ridden meltdown.  Rumours were spreading fast that Cinderella and Prince Charming had split up, thus meaning that Pantoland’s big royal wedding was off.  This meant a total collapse of the global Christmas eco-system.  No wedding – no Christmas.  With crisis looming, it was left to me to track down Cinders and Charming, get the wedding back on track and save Christmas for all 7 billion people on the planet.   No pressure then.

Having donned my special Christmassy red hi-vis jacket, I was sent on a wild goose chase around Covent Garden market, being met by a series of familiar fairytale characters, in shops and by pillars, constantly being led around by the arm or given bits of paper with instructions with where to go and what to do next.  This is the epitome of audience participation and requires a spirit of silliness and total abandonment of your inhibitions, especially as you will probably be given a makeover and then find yourself walking through a busy market with a man dressed as a mouse in regency attire.  A few boozy tipples are on offer along the route, which might help take the edge off how ridiculous you think you look.  If you are naturally self-conscious and/or easily embarrassed, then this is perhaps not for you.  If you revel in mischief, it’s a must-see.

Having met a string of colourful characters, collected various objects and been ceremoniously paraded through the street on a sparkly gold pumpkin rickshaw ridden by another regency mouse (who took great pleasure in bellowing “she’s going to save Christmas!!!” at passers by) it was off to the final location to see if I could save the wedding in the nick of time and save Christmas for humankind.  For the record, yes I did and you should all be very grateful to me.  There was a saccharine panto finale song with lyrics tailored to specific things on my journey and a complimentary glass of champagne to toast my success.

This is great fun, but it absolutely hinges on you being happy to go along with it and engage with every character.  They will improvise their scene with you (and the other person you’re with), they will talk to you and expect you to talk to them.  Be prepared to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly and you will have a delightfully daft evening. Oh no you won’t?   Oh yes you definitely will…

Once Upon a Christmas is on until 15th December.  This promenade (walking) performance takes place outside around Covent Garden Market.  Wear comfortable shoes and wrap up warm! Take an umbrella if needs be.  You must be 18 years or older.  Contains some strong language.  For tickets and information, go to http://lookleftlookright.com/site/?page_id=848

‘Rebels & Rubble’ and ‘The Unbuilt Room’ – Battersea Arts Centre

It’s been about 9 years since I last visited Battersea Arts Centre.  In need of some ‘alternative’ performance viewing to talk about in an essay for my downright weird university course, my mum and I toddled off to see ‘Vacaxion Vacaxion’ by Crazy Horse and ‘Attempts on her Life’ by Martin Crimp.  The former was sheer brilliance, the latter a series of uninspiring monologues.  With essay written, I consigned all forms of contemporary performance to the “never again” box.

But slowly, with productions such as The Factory Hamlet, ‘Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World’ by Bad Physics and most recently, ‘The Drowned Man’ by Punchdrunk, I have found myself at ease with seeing the more unusual things again, with a sense of curiosity rather than dread.  It was pure coincidence that I had booked tickets for performances on the very night that BAC were celebrating not only the building’s 120th birthday, but also getting the rights to the building for another 120 years.  Just think – this haven of boundless creativity will be in safe hands until at least 2133.

Rebels & Rubble – by Il Pixel Rosso

This is an interactive audio-visual tour of the fictional tumultuous history of Battersea Arts Centre.  Starting in the foyer, I was given a pair of headphones and video goggles (20/20 vision or contact lenses essential!  Afraid they’re not particularly comfortable to wear) and led to the foot of the grand marble steps.  This is a solo affair; it is just you and a guide whose primary function is to gently steer you through the tour.

It’s hard to describe, but imagine that you have a camera at eye level looking down and filming your own feet as you walk about – this is what you have to follow.  It’s a bit odd at first and it takes a bit of a leap of faith to walk in the prescribed footsteps (especially in a busy, noisy building where you initially feel quite self-conscious and the first thing they want you to do is climb a flight of stairs), but your guide ensures your safety and you soon get absorbed in the story and following the instructions. It’s an odd juxtaposition watching a suffragette running through an empty hallway when minutes before you’ve seen it crowded with people.  It reminded me partly of the kids’ TV show ‘Knightmare’ (being simultaneously both the helmetted child in the empty room AND the kids in the dungeon watching the screen).

The further you walk, the more implicitly you have to trust your guide.  What feels like walking through a series of doors as you go from one period of time to another, means that you lose track of real time and although your eyes and ears know where you are in the story, your body is quite disorientated.  When I took the goggles off at the end I was amazed at how little distance I had really travelled.

I had some time to spare between performances so I was able to watch someone else go through the experience.  It was reassuring to see that the guide takes very good care of you, helping you with steps and keeping other people from bumping into you as well as handing you various props and creating various effects.

The Unbuilt Room – by Seth Kriebel

This is a piece of immersive theatre billed as being about how places create memories and memories create places.  But it’s so much more than that.  This is a riff on those early text-based computer games which give you options to go north/south or go up/down stairs and rely on using your imagination to bring the game to life.  It does of course help that the game is set in the BAC.

In the foyer, we are formed into a team of 6 (based on the time on your ticket) and sent to a small room which contains 8 chairs and our gamesmaster, Seth.  We are encouraged to talk to each other and he goes around the circle as each of us take a ‘turn’.  He sets the scene of us standing on the outside steps of the building; his voice bright yet mechanical (rather like Kryten from Red Dwarf) describes every location and our options:  “Foyer.  You are standing in a mosaic tiled room with a grand staircase going up, a corridor that goes north and a door to a spiral staircase that goes down.  You can go up, down or North.   What would you like to do?”

Thankfully my team (whom I’d never met before) were all up for working together and with every room we mapped out the geography of the building.  Within minutes of starting, everyone was leaning in, desperate to catch every snippet of information that might be useful as we explored the depths of the basement.  When returning to a room, descriptions were said aloud with the same meticulous delivery every single time, making it almost comical.

We kept going round and round in circles and just as we had made a breakthrough, with almost poetic timing, our allocated 20 minute slot was up and we were all desperate to find out where we could go next!  Immediately after, a few of us went exploring the building to find the hallowed spiral staircase that led down to many – possibly fictional? – rooms and undiscovered places.  It was nowhere to be seen.

A wonderfully structured way to let your imagination run wild and go on an adventure in an alternate reality.  I would absolutely go back for second helpings of this one in a heartbeat.

‘Rebels & Rubble’ and ‘The Unbuilt Room’ are on at the Battersea Arts Centre until Saturday 23rd November.  Both shows are £5.00 each and have various time slots throughout the evening. For information and tickets, go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content_category/1883/see_whats_on/current_shows