The Drowned Man

Although theatre and cinema often share many similarities, it’s rare the two converge as audaciously and memorably as the current offering from the award-winning theatre troupe, Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man not only bridges that gap between both mediums, it twists and mangles it into an unrecognisable shape, offering a truly unforgettable interactive experience. Set around a fictitious Hollywood studio known as Temple Pictures somewhere in the 60s, the action is played out across four floors (an old Post Office building in reality).

To reveal anything what happens once you’re been dropped off at your destinations (via a sassy broad, manning an elevator) is an unavoidable spoiler. To put it simply, it feels like you’ve been invited into one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books, the various (loose) narratives here playing out over the floors, with the audience having to literally choose which path they want to take. You can find yourself as a spectator during the middle of an intimate moment between two characters in a narrow corridor, or having to avoid a drunken, jealously-fuelled saloon-set confrontation.

Essentially you’re the director of your own live show, moving around and framing various scenes from your own unique viewpoint. To make things even more disconcerting, audiences are required to wear strange elongated, expressionless white masks and are asked to remain silent throughout. It’s like witnessing a crowd of strange voyeurs and onlookers in your own dreams.

Usually with such large-scale world-building (particularly with the likes of Secret Cinema) a hefty leap of imagination is required to fully lose yourself in the environment laid out in front of you. That isn’t the case here. The jaw-dropping production design does all the creative legwork for you. The attention to period detail is simply incredible, with every nook and cranny of the various sordid-looking, low-rent motel rooms and shops which make up the main street scene (which comes complete with functioning water fountain) given full decorative treatment.

Everything is tinged with a darkness and unwholesomeness, be it the faintly unnerving teenybop high-school locker room dance scene (where the characters react to the discombobulated voice of a director somewhere off in the distance) or the decaying trailer park in the woods (yes, you read that right) with leads to an ominous-looking, corrugated chapel with splinters of light jutting out.

It certainly wears its influences in its sleeve. There’s that unmistakable Lynchian aura of twisted Americana, apparent in the oppressive, foreboding industrial sound design and the mix of rockabilly doo-wop numbers scattered throughout. The director’s vision is particularly evident in an early Twin Peaks-like, strobe-heavy dream sequence which builds up into an astounding mix of interpretive dance and heightened theatrics.

The hard work and effort has paid off for Punchdrunk as The Drowned Man has proved to be immensely popular, having extended its run for almost a year. It ends next month on the 6th July so there’s still time to book tickets for this extraordinary immersive experience. It’s an unforgettable evening, layered with rich detail and imagination which will stay with you long after you’ve stepped back into the real world.

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