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.
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.