All Alone and Sober at Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man

An epic immersive experience in London.

My most favourite thing about living in London is not the fact that Europe is on its door step, or Africa on its windowsill, the best thing about London is that no matter what day of the week it is, no matter how much money you have, no matter how ugly you are – there is ALWAYS something fun to do, see, hear, poke, touch, explore, apprehensively participate in.

I, not that long ago, didn’t have a penny to my name, so I borrowed £40 off a friend and decided to go along with her and her boyfriend to Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable at Temple Studios.

This performance is a tricky one to explain, man: I’d heard about it before and it gave me the heebie jeebies to imagine participating in such a surreal experience.

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You see, as an audience member to most sorts of theatrical shows, you are usually able to purchase seats somewhere fluffy in your comfort zone. A ticket to The Drowned Man however, entitles you to no seat whatsoever; in fact, so much lack-of-seat that your legs get tired from running around chasing dancing actors.

They call this an immersive theatre experience.

So Temple Studios is a multi-storey production studio, right? Right. And basically the entire place is turned into one big gigantor set for the actors to run around willy-nilly, just acting wherever they feel like it.

Which means if you want to get your money’s worth and see (some of) the show then you have to run around being an audience wherever you feel like it too. And you have to keep up; the actors are fast little things.

The audience is hugely important visually, everyone hovers around right in midst of the performances; so close that you could go and stroke an actor if you wanted to be a weirdo. But to be able to distinguish the audience members from the acting members, they make you dress like a duck.

(The masks we had to wear)

(Visually important audience)

They ensure the experience is unsettling from the moment you start; a crackpot elevator operator, like something straight out of a 1960s Hollywood horror flick, shuffles you and your gaggle in. ‘This is your level’ or something to that affect is what he said with a disconcerting smile when the lift stopped. My two friends walked out first and I started to follow, but the bastard startlingly shoved his arm in front of me, blocking my direct route out of the lift.

“Not you” he said wickedly and shut the bloody elevator door.

I know it sounds like I’m about to get sexually assaulted here but there were still other ducks in the elevator. STRANGER ducks!

The clerk couldn’t see my face but I wanted to fight him for doing that. I am actually a bit of a scaredy catduck, I hate the dark, jump easily AND I am socially awkward at the best of times.

He let me off on a different storey and I felt displaced. Some ducks were wandering around a bit aimlessly, but AT LEAST in groups of friend ducks. Me? I was a lone ranging duck, just trying to get by in this crazy parallel universe.

The entire place was beautifully lit, and the dispersed set was gorgeous: motels, boudoirs, bedrooms, trailer parks, diners, forests, sand dunes. Every detail had been thought through carefully and I loved the fact that you were able to snoop around the place; open drawers, read letters, pick up phones, sit in cars.

I eventually found my first story to follow when a pretty girl jumped out of a caravan. There are multiple stories going on at one time all around the building and it feels completely disjointed. You definitely can’t be in all places at once because you’re not air. So you have to choose someone to follow and just go with it until something else distracts you.

Some of the scenes are very dramatic. And sexy. If you’re not watching a punch on between two WELL FIT chaps, then you might be gawping at an extremely attractive pair having steamy affair sex.

At one point I found myself chasing a half-clad man into a room full of dusty sand. His erratic dance moves created a dust storm and I feel like I inhaled the Sahara that night. This part was a representation of him spiralling out of control after he spotted his gal getting funky with another dude. Much to my shocking delight, he danced so hard that his clothes tore from his body and I saw his winky.

Now, mostly the actors just interact with each other, but sometimes they go totally AWOL and start involving the audience.

Yup, they just do it on a whim. They make eye contact with a duck and suddenly the duck becomes the centre of the show: MY DREAM. I saw one duck being dragged into closed doors (awks) and another be snogged (as much as you can with duck mask limitations) by a bored receptionist.

A young woman targeted me when she was crying and carrying on in her bedroom. She locked eyes with me, approached me like a crazed maniac and started shaking my shoulders as she yelled the name of the man she had just cheated on, as if I was some sort of embodiment of him.

Needless to say I was grinning underneath my ducky disguise, feeling like a total muppet.

She got murdered not long after that.

I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the experience at the time of experiencing because despite there being people around you the entire time, you can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. There are the most absurd things happening right in front you, at arms reach, yet you can’t join in or share your thoughts and opinions with anyone.

But despite this, I still have the urge to go back and immerse myself in it all again. Maybe it’s because I relished in the tantalising discomfort of the situation, enjoyed the periods of mild boredom or appreciated the time it gave me to think about what I was going to make for dinner for the rest of the week. Or maybe it’s because I was there for 4 hours, yet still only witnessed about 20% of the show…

Whatever reason it is, I probably will go back. The whole thing was a glorious headfuck. And there was a bar.

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What do you think?

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