Chocolate Socialist (braisedbywolves) wrote,
Chocolate Socialist
braisedbywolves

The Drowned Man

So, myself and G went out at the end of November to The Drowned Man, the latest Punchdrunk piece, in an abandoned (and soon to be knocked down) Royal Mail postal office.

[What Punchdrunk productions are usually like, I understand - half of you will already know this]I'm not sure which genre Punchdrunk is generally situated in - I heard someone describe it as Immersion Narrative, which is a pretty good start. It takes place in a large multi-room multi-story space, through which the actors move, coming together for the bigger scenes and then wandering off with their own motives. All of the audience are wearing masks, and are instructed to remain silent throughout - and ideally to explore by themselves alone. Certain actors may certain times turn to any following audience and pick one to take away to a private space for a "1-1", which may involve taking their mask off and an interactive (this covers A LOT) experience. There are also black-masked staff around, as security-cum-stagemanagers. One thing that I don't know if it is or isn't specific to The Drowned Man is that the story is in a loop that repeats 3 times over the three hours - at the end of the last loop the black masks will usher everyone towards one space for a finale.

The (non-spoilery) story of the Drowned Man is that it's twin main stories - one in a Hollywood studio, one among the denizens of the desert town outside. Some characters move between them, some just stay as their own. There's a lot of sources but one is Woyzeck, so laughs abound.

[What I found - spoilers ahoy]Dudes, it was amazing. The set dressing for a start is incredible, apart from the main areas (Sounds stages, saloon, town main street, terrifying Lynchian red-curtained chessboard dancefloor), there's a lot of tiny nooks each, with some hint or other to one of the stories. I did spend some time acting on the principle of "If an actor is rushing one way with their comet-trail of audience behind them, I'll see where they're coming from". This in not in fairness a great principle, but I did get to see a fair amount of the set.

This amount of passive detail is also useful if it turns out that parts of the performance are in an idiom you are not fond of EG dance. Actually that's not fair - there's a lot that I found fascinating, including both* chessboard set pieces, but I early on made my way over to the town side to see some people dancing "I am so in love with you!" and later two fellows dancing "We are friends but we are having an argument!". I did also later get slammed into a wall by a couple dancing some vigorous sex, but I didn't mind so much at that stage.

I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy it, G had sent me link to a gradated-spoiler guide and I wasn't very certain about the instruction "If a character starts to stare at you, hold the gaze, if they offer you their hand, take it, if they open a door for you, go through". Of course one of the first things that happens once you put on the mask is that you become an anonymous member of a (well-mannered) mob, and when my chance came - I flinched and someone else was chosen. But I regretted it!

One of the other effects that can happen is as one of the main actors rushes off to another scene, their trial of audience will get longer to navigate stairs and corridors, until it turns out that they have unbeknownst to themselves merged with another actor's trail, or just got lost entirely. I generally found this amusing.

Time flies in there though - when first I saw the same scene repeated I thought "that can't possibly be an hour", and when the black masks impassively ushered me towards the finale I was amazed that it was three hours. I enjoyed it a lot and I'll be back, I hope.

*that I know about.


Also I got a great story as a present on my birthday - one of the actors, when the time came for one of his 1-1s, selected a lady from the audience and gestured to take her hand. The large man standing next to her, though, indicated that this was not a good idea. The actor, being in his place of power, and checking that the lady seemed up for it, tried again, to a more serious (but still silent) refusal from the man. So, the actor took both of the into the room. It's obviously not usual, but the actor is firstly a professional, and secondly is due somewhere else in 5 minutes. So he removed their masks and delivered his usual routine about how Hollywood is a terrible place that will grind you up and spit you out, and how you yes you should just give up now and return to where you came from - to Madonna. Who was completely into it (far more than her bodyguard) - indeed when you think about it, getting to assume anonymity and wander about for three hours for £50 must be something of a bargain for her, whatever else is happening around.
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