Tag Archives: Paddington

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.


The Drowned Man – Punchdrunk (Temple Studios)

Standing on a metal gantry waiting to enter, everyone is handed a small piece of paper:

“Inside the gates of a film studio, Wendy and Marshall struggle to make ends meet.  When Marshall meets Dolores, they strike up an affair.  Wendy confronts Marshall about the infidelity, but he denies everything.  As Wendy’s paranoia becomes uncontrollable, she goes to a party and witnesses the affair first hand.  Wendy’s state of panic accelerates until she leads Marshall into the wilderness and murders him.”


On the other side is an inverse storyline with the genders switched, set outside the gates of the studio featuring William, Mary and Dwayne in the corresponding roles to their initials.  This is a nod to Büchner’s tragedy Woyzeck, but these are the only clues we are given to the story.

Forget everything you think you know about theatre or performance.  Immersive theatre gives you the rare opportunity to wander around fantasy world and discover the characters who inhabit it, to follow them through their story and their interactions, all providing extra peripheral details to the main storyline.  But with no map and no one telling you where to go, what to watch or how long to stay, it is entirely up to you to find them in this great sprawling 4-storey building and decide for yourself who the main characters are.   It’s a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole with added ‘press the red button now’ features.

We are sent down a very dark corridor into a small room and handed a mask each and asked to wear it for the duration of the performance – it seems an odd request at first but as we discover, with around 600 marauding audience members and only 32 actors, it really helps to distinguish between the two (so as to prevent audience following audience).   We are then ushered into a service lift and plunged into the dimly-lit world of Temple Studios in 1950s Hollywood and the trailer park that surrounds it.

The first things that hit you are the sheer scale of the place and the level of intricate detail in everything you can see – right down to the strands of hair in the hairbrush on the dressing table in one of the houses; it’s as though this whole world has been there for decades.  It doesn’t take long to find the performers – wandering into a hair salon/cafe on the main street, there are 2 men fighting over a girl – there’s not much in the way of speech, just contemporary dance (people are often put off by this, worried that they won’t understand it, but fear not – their facial expressions, body language and movement will tell you everything you need to know – and it’s pretty obvious from the off that one man is very angry with the other about fooling around with his girlfriend).

I spent a fair bit of time wandering around the various rooms, just seeing what was there and it took me a while to get my bearings.  It slowly becomes apparent that the actors all have their own things to do and places to be, and they will go about their business whether they have an audience or not – they will not wait for you to show up or repeat anything.  This is a great example of the modern phenomena of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), always thinking that something more interesting or important may be going on somewhere else – so do you stick with the character(s) you’ve found or do you wander off elsewhere?  What is that noise coming from down the corridor?  Where are they going in such a hurry?  Why are so many audience following them?  Where does that lead?  It probably took me a good hour to feel comfortable with choosing a character, following them, watching their next encounter and then either choosing to stick with them or follow someone else and having the courage to accept my own decisions rather than worrying about what else I might be missing.

drowned man 2

But be warned; if you plan to follow a character to wherever they’re going next, stick to them like glue.  Don’t stop to look in other rooms or look back, because in the sea of masked audience, you will almost certainly lose them (if you’re lucky, you’ll find them again later – probably soaking wet or covered in mud/blood or in a totally different costume).  Equally, once you’ve  found a storyline (either inside the studio or out in the trailer park), stick with that too.  Wandering off into the other world will only introduce you to a bunch of unrelated characters – I must’ve lost a good 15 minutes just finding out what was up on the top floor and then unable to find my way back to the staircase – time I wish I’d spent following the characters I was just starting to get to grips with.

It has taken me about 2 days to get my head around everything I’ve seen (and didn’t see).  Speaking to friends who’ve been, it’s almost impossible to compare notes as the chances of you having been in the same room at the equivilent time to them, watching the same scene are virtually nil (“Did you see this bit?”, “No… did you see the bit where….?”, “Nope.  We’re you in the room when they…?”, “Errrr…no.”) although 3 of us have managed to see the same dance sequence in the studio ballroom.  I can’t help but think that this is a ploy to get me to go back and see it again.  I’m already looking at tickets for November.

The Drowned Man is at Temple Studios, 31 London Street, Paddington, London, W2 1DJ and is currently booking until 30th December 2013.  http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable

PLEASE NOTE: This is a promenade (walking) production – comfortable footwear recommended.  Running time will be up to 3 hours depending on your journey.  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.