Tuesday, February 18, 2014

[theatre] "The Drowned Man"

Punchdrunk - The Drowned Man Trailer from The Difference Engine on Vimeo.

A friend in Edinburgh suggested going to the Punchdrunk show The Drowned Man when I went down to London. So I did. This proved to be one of those immersive theatre pieces, performed in a former post office building near Paddington Station. The audience wear masks and walk around watching unmasked actors performing scenes from a drama set around a film studio, set vaguely in the early 1960s. The audience is unguided, so you have to decided for yourself whether to follow individual characters around, to stay in one place and see what happens there (probably a bad move), or drift around exploring and seeing what you come across. The place is dimly lit and atmospheric music plays. The non-linearity of the plot (an inevitable consequence of the audience being unable to see everything and not necessarily seeing what they do in chronological order) together with the slightly creepy voyeuristic aspect of things made me feel like I was wandering around in a David Lynch film.

The whole thing is very dance-oriented. The fight scenes are so choreographed that they flowed seamlessly into and out of dance routines. This all added to the strange surreality of it all. And the featureless white masks of the audience members give them a ghostly appearance as they cluster around the actors.

If you are my friend on Facebook you may have seen a gentleman commenting on how he found The Drowned Man to be a bit unsatisfying, largely because an audience member misses so much that he felt like he was not getting the full experience. I can see where he is coming from, but for me this was all about being swept along and seeing what you see rather than trying to see everything and having a full understanding of what is going on. Going with someone else and then separating from them seems like the best way to approach this, as you can compare notes afterwards, or half way through in the bar. So I was able to tell my friend K— about the very David Lynch dance routine that turned into something approximating to an orgy and then he told me how he was taken aside into a tiny room by one of the cast for a special encounter (he was afraid, but the cast member was afraid too).

So I loved it and am already thinking about going again, partly to see different things and partly because it was so much fun the first time. On a second visit I reckon I would knock back a double whisky before going in, to heighten the sense of unreality. And because everything is better with booze.

image source 1 (Official London Theatre)

image source 2 (The Bespoke Black Book)

An inuit panda production; this post appeared in issue 138 of Frank's APA.

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