For reasons I can’t think of, I didn’t do write ups for visits 7 to 11. Apologies if you’re looking for them. But for now they all blur into one and I couldn’t tell you for certain whether I saw a particular scene on visit 7 or visit 8. Although visits 9 & 10 were both the same evening as I did the legendary ‘double’, with the second performance of the night being on the £85 premium ticket which gave a prologue (a nice touch for helping first timers to orientate themselves) but also gave me access to the Drafting Room – which I only found on visit 9 and gives you lots of details about characters, who they are and where their story takes them through the building (I stupidly didn’t make as much use of this as I should’ve done). Now that premium tickets have ceased and there are 2 new types of tickets – Luna’s List and Studio Exec – wild speculation has ensued about what will happen to the premium rooms.
When The Drowned Man opened, it was originally going to finish on 31st December 2013. So we booked tickets for New Year’s Eve (because where else would any self respecting Punchdrunk addict want to spend the final hours of the year other than in Temple Studios? That was visit 7). But the news we’d all hoped for came in November: Run extended to 23rd February 2014. So tickets were booked again to say a fond farewell to a place we had come to love and cast who had bewitched our hearts and minds. Because nasty Crossrail were going to gut the building, do some railway stuff in the basement and turn the place into flats. But extension after extension was granted to Punchdrunk and although tickets currently go up to April, there’s talk of performers being contracted through to September. Farewell bank balance, it was nice knowing you.
So on ‘Not The Last Show’ (my show 11), a friend insisted that I follow the character of William as played by Paul Zivkovich. I did and he broke my heart. Ok so it doesn’t quite excuse him murdering his girlfriend, but to witness his descent into paranoia was devastating. It occurred to me that in 10 visits, I had never really followed any of the main characters as listed on the little bit of paper (the two love triangles: William, Mary, Dwayne and Wendy, Marshall, Dolores). I’ve caught snippets here and there, but never a whole sequential loop. There are plenty of other characters on the list too, but I figured it was time to stray out of the peripheral and back to the main stories. My trouble recently has been not knowing where to find people at any given time, so I’ve simply ended up watching scenes I’ve already seen because I know that will lead me to a character I haven’t followed. I do of course enjoy those scenes (I am yet to get bored of the Hoedown), but I know there’s an untold number that have so far eluded me and I want to see them.
Having frivolously shelled out £1 for delivery to have ticket in hand, I managed to skip the Box Office queue, get through the cloakroom and into the first lift. With a bit of knowledge on where to find my targets, I raced up from basement to ground floor to the Studio 4 set to find – as hoped – Wendy (Leslie Ann Kraus) and Marshall (James Finnemore) lying on the bed in their caravan. I’ve never seen either of these two in these roles (I’ve always caught snippets with them played by other performers) so was intrigued to see how they’d compare. They didn’t disappoint.
With Marshall gone and other audience following him, I had Wendy all to myself. She got up and then began her dance through the trees – one with the first flickers of suspicion, climbing and sketching her limbs through the air. As she came down there was a glance as she clocked me, a terrified and troubled look in her eyes. I was treated to these glances and stares throughout almost the entirety of her loop, initially seeming to unnerve her by the fact that she thought she could see me, but as more audience accumulated, she seemed almost to search for me as a source of familiarity. As the parallel female version of William, Wendy too has her descent into paranoia. At one point she threw herself at me, grabbed my throat and hissed something into my ear – but with her fragile emotional state it was all I could do not to gather her into my arms to try and offer some sort of comfort. As she walks into Mr Stanford’s party to witness Marshall’s infidelity (and the complicity of her best friend), she shakes with such violence that you wonder if she might be physically ill.
As the scenes came full circle, I switched over to Marshall to follow his loop, but still unable to get Wendy’s gut-wrenching arc out of my head. This only served to make him seem all the more guilty. Yet his character seems to be yearning for some sort of escape, so that the more paranoid Wendy becomes, the further he plunges into his affair. Yet as I followed him (occasionally difficult with large numbers of people doing the same), I started to realise just how easily he is influenced and that much of his infidelity is engineered by others rather than being motivated solely by his own desires. It is these other cold, calculating characters who lay a trail of evidence to ensure that all of Wendy’s suspicions are confirmed, yet Marshall seems to be genuinely unaware of their agenda, especially once drugged ahead of Stanford’s party. But as we are led to witness his murder, he seems to stumble up the hill, totally oblivious of what’s about to happen to him. Whether he is sorry for his actions (or sorry that he got caught) remains ambiguous to the last, but he simply becomes collateral damage in what appears to be the grand design: to provoke a very real reaction from Wendy – just for the camera.
But in many ways, it is having followed many of those ‘other’ characters in previous visits which has perhaps altered my perspective of what I see; without the context of the machinations going on behind the scenes, this would just be a textbook affair. But the level of manipulation is such that this begs a very unsettling question: how many of our decisions and our actions are truly our own?