Punchdrunk: The Drowned Man

9:21 pm in Featured by EVNT

The set of The Drowned Man is vast and bewitching, from the Hollywood studios through to a 1960’s town with a water fountain in the centre, through to the gypsy camp and forest outside the gates of Hollywood. It’s a feast to explore, for the first hour at least, at which point – if you haven’t joined the mobs chasing down the very occasional actors – you start to wonder when you’ll catch a proper hook of the plot, feel a true rush of excitement, anticipation…something.

While roaming this vast wonderland set of never ending corridors, nooks and unexpected passages I didn’t see one actor in any of the interesting little spaces. I entered each darkened room hoping to feel my heart thud against my chest on seeing a character lurking, but two hours later and nothing came. A few times I discovered a hidden passage, felt the thrill of discovery and the anticipation of what the reward would be only to find they were simply connectors to other rooms. Rooms that already had masked guests like myself prodding around.The best thrills I had were a result of being startled by other audience members in masks.

I had that horrible sense that I was missing out. I explored harder, started to chase the actors, but all the moments I witnessed were for big crowds in central locations. And then I realised; there just aren’t enough performers, maybe 25 for an audience of 600 in an enormous old postal building.

Essentially this is a performance of contemporary dance, where you’re often encouraged to move away rather than get closer and where you’re instructed not to speak as you enter. Unless you are lucky enough to get one of the now rare one-on-one experiences or become shepherded by an actor you drift around the dream-like set occasionally discovering a cut-scene – some of which are incredibly powerful and emotive, some more simply expressionist and abstract.

The conclusion, for which all of the audience is herded together into the central floor, is mesmerising and at points staggeringly beautiful. It is also at points a bit like the Notting Hill carnival – a crush of people moving together, some against their will and some in the hope of finding slightly more compelling entertainment.

Punchdrunk broke ground when they put a mask on audiences and gave them a new found confidence to become part of the performance. That confidence was then rewarded with one-to-one experiences. A Drowned Man does not deliver enough on this, it asks you to observe the art. And that’s just not as much fun as they have set it all up for…