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.


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