Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable: Punchdrunk at Temple Studios

I have been the only person following this suited man for the last minute or so. There is a long dark corridor, punctuated with spotlights which illuminate and hide him as he moves and I hurriedly walk behind him. He stops at a doorway, turns and inspects me, before taking my hand, pulling me into a dark room and locking the door behind us. He moves over to the light in the corner and turns it off.
I stand in the middle of this small room, surrounded by darkness, breath quickening as I wonder what might happen next. He takes out a torch and shines it into my eyes.
“Have you ever danced with a stranger in dark?” he asks. I shake my head – we are not allowed to speak. He switches off the torch and once again I am plunged into darkness. He takes my hand and puts it on his shoulder, the other on his waist. I feel him moving and we dance. I step on his toes, he doesn't flinch.
Suddenly, someone else enters the room, we hear them. He holds me close and I grip tightly. I still cannot see a thing. Then he moves me, and places my hands on someone elses. They are limp, they don't feel right, so I recoil. He tries again, he puts my hands onto someone elses chest. He is tall, I feel a woolly jumper. Once again I am dancing in the dark. Then he removes my mask and a light comes on. I am looking into the face of a total stranger. The light goes out and the door opens. The moment is over.

I am back in the warehouse that they call Temple Studios, the four floor elaborate set of Punchdrunk's new show The Drowned Man. I can go wherever I like, explore every room. There is a street, with a bar and shops, a fountain and benches. There are film sets of kitchens and locker rooms, there are bedrooms and dressing rooms and dark corners with shrines, all very dimly lit. As you wonder around, you come across the performers, the only ones without masks, they dance, they speak, they argue, they have sex, then when they are done, they disappear in different directions and you alone decide who you want to follow.

The concept of this immersive theatre experience is slickly executed, from the moment you step off the lift, you are in a different world, all on your own. The lighting is eerie and atmospheric, the music is deafening and grand, you are, quite simply, transported.

There are certainly moments of discomfort, feeling lost, disoriented, and the smell of one of the rooms became so overbearing for me that I had to escape as quickly as possible. In particular I loved the forest and the dressing table surrounded by mirrors.

Because of the nature of the idea, you can never see everything that is happening, you will follow some characters and miss others, you catch snippets of story but not all. I revelled in this to begin with, there is something very freeing about just going with your gut and feeling able to wander wherever you like in a safe space. Everywhere I looked there was a perfect image and I just wanted to have a camera with me and take pictures the whole way around.

For me, however, after an hour and a half or so of this, I began to tire of it a little. Because of the bitty nature of the storyline, I found that I was not invested enough in any of the characters to really want to know how it turned out at the end. I found that the full cast finale was a little incongruous with the feel of the rest of the experience, and also I felt that nothing could have topped the intensity of that moment in the darkened room.

Unfortunately, the feeling of boredom that overtook me towards the end seems to have cast a bit of a shadow over the whole evening for me. I was glad that I had obtained a half price ticket, I was glad to have experienced the show, but I am not sure that I would attend their next show. I might recommend it to people, but at the price of £39.50 per head, it would be rare. However I can appreciate that the cost and effort of pulling off such a high value production such as this means that it has to be expensive.

I would say that if you are interested in film, dance and not a usual theatre goer, this is probably the show for you. For me personally, I like a storyline that allows me to become invested in the characters, to care about what happens to them and my journey on this occasion did not allow me that privilege. That is not to say, however, that others who took a different path might not have had just that. Whatever you do, if you do go, heed their advice and go it alone.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable runs until 30th December, ticket prices vary from £19.50 to £85.00.