Site specific aimless wandering: The Drowned Man

Site specific theatre has never seemed more pointless and inept than in Punchdrunk's latest outing, The Drowned Man. A large, cavernous space near Paddington Station is converted into Temple Pictures Studios. You are meant to wander through the spaces and discover the unfolding dramas that are inspired by the drama Woyzeck. These dramas are mostly about people on the margins of the film industry struggling to make ends meet and where high emotions that take people to the point of insanity. It could be spooky and imaginative and a little bit of fun, but instead it is executed so casually that the end product is dreary, aimless and confused.

Throughout four floors, the spaces are so large and empty, the lighting so dark that it all seems a little pointless and lacking any direction. It is all too big, too dark and too empty to be interesting.  With all the mazes and rooms with props it seems as if you have inadvertently dropped in on a fuck club on the night it is closed for hosing out. The top floor is full of sand and little else. The third floor had a dead horse, and the rest was too dark to work out what it was. Never before has so much plywood, bric-à-brac, and dark paint been used for such little effect. 
There is nothing to encourage you to explore the places and when you do find an actor, they seem to be having a great time amongst themselves but hardly encouraging the audience members to follow them with their amateurish dramatics. There is also a booming and ominous orchestral soundtrack that follows you around as if you are in Mel Brooks film High Anxiety, so it is impossible not to giggle, taking away from all the earnest seriousness and psychotics that is supposed to be taking place.

Things probably didn't get off to a great start either when the actor taking our group down to the basement gives us all a lecture about not talking and taking the piss out the show. Obviously in the week it has already been running this has already been noted as an issue. So rather than fixing it we get lectured about behaviour. The contempt the creators of the show have for their audience also extends to what you are required to wear. You are also required to wear masks that are uncomfortable if you are wearing glasses (the only advice the National Theatre gives is "wear contacts" - as if that is a solution), but also narrow your field of view to the point that it is hard to get a sense of where you are going. The masks make you less like an extra in  Eyes Wide Shut and more like Donald Duck with a visual impairment. And if you lift up your mask to try and work out where you are going, ushers standing by will pounce on you and insist you put it down. 

The liveliest part of the building was the bar where the majority of the audience - hipsters lost from East London - stayed either by choice or by confusion. There you can see some acts and get a drink. I was expecting the actors might encourage the audience to move out of the space, but no instead you get a bit more amateur dramatics and a bit of singing. 

After an hour and a half of aimless wondering, we decided to call it a night. We weren't the only ones. The woman at the exit seemed surprised we were leaving early and tried to convince us that there was a spectacular ending. But when we asked when that was going to happen and she replied, "Oh in a little over an hour." We headed for the coat check. At least at the coat check there was some entertainment as even though you are given a number you have describe what the bag looks like. It felt like a game, particularly since my bag was new and I hadn't really paid much attention to what it looked like and I had the guy pulling out bag after bag after bag trying to find it. 

Bothered and bewildered, Johnnyfoxlondon and I recorded our reactions in the following Audioboo...


Do check out the preview for the show as well. It gives you a sense of the music that follows you for the entire performance (on a continuous loop). I understand the show comes with a warning that there may be nudity. Don't worry, even if it happens in your face the spaces are so underlit you wouldn't know it... It runs for the rest of the year so it may get better... It can't get any worse...

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