Last week we were luckily enough to attend Punchdrunk’s latest immersive theatre experience, The Drowned Man. Having pioneered the format back in the early 2000s, Punchdrunk have constantly pushed the boundaries of immersive theatre and led where others have followed. This was the fastest selling National Theatre show of all time and expectations were high.
We headed to Paddington Station and entered “Temple Studios”, a fictional film studio from the 60s which had been created inside a disused post office. Since we had the VIP tickets we went in a separate entrance and were told we were going to be taken on a tour of the studios, but to be careful as they were currently finishing off filming their latest production – The Drowned Man.
The building is a huge 4 floor behemoth designed to be explored freely by the wandering crowds. Based on the Russian tale “Woyzeck”, The Drowned Man plays out in a different fashion on each floor, with entirely different casts and scenarios. Everywhere you look is completely different, and the set design is impeccable. Hundreds of hand written scripts and notes litter every room you come across allowing attendees to go as deep as they would like to in the world of The Drowned Man. However, most of the crowds follow the action, and you will wander from one room into another only to see a scene in the midst of being acted out by 20 live actors. There is no introduction or clearly guided narrative to follow and it is up to the viewer to decipher the story by exploring the studios.
As warned, there is a film being shot in the studios at various points, but the actors are also living out their lives around the film, and it can often be difficult to determine whether you’re watching the actors in the movie or behind the scenes. It can be incredibly disorientating at times, but since the show runs for 3 hours you begin to piece things together as the show goes on.
The Drowned Man is one of the most impressive feats of theatre I’ve experienced in London, and Punchdrunk really do know how to put on an elaborate show. The set design is unrivalled and no corners have been cut from a production perspective. The story can be meandering at times (and somewhat pretentious), but like all of these things, you get back what you put into it. If you go in with an open mind, prepared to explore the world they have sculpted you will come out of it with a completely unique and new experience that will not be replicated anywhere else.