On being Punchdrunked

On being Punchdrunked

This morning I met up with a close friend for breakfast… Why am I mentioning this? Firstly so that I can tell you about this lovely little cafe which you should try to visit: Brown and Green.
Secondly because she is currently performing in the show everyone is talking about…. that is The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable.
I went to see the show a week ago, and waited until today to write about it as I thought chatting to her might make me think differently about the evening, and whilst she was obviously able to shed light and share stories surrounding the production, my opinion of the show has remained unchanged.
I do not want to say too much and ruin the fun, as part of the pleasure of The Drowned Man is the element of surprise, but it is fair to say the show will keep you on your toes.
As you approach the huge building that the company have taken over, there will be nothing to make you guess what you are about to discover.
Based on Büchner’s “Woyzeck”, Punchdrunk take you on a journey through Temple Studios, in a world oscillating between Hollywood studio and real life. As you advance masked into these worlds, you will immediately understand how Punchdrunk have got to where they are today. Not only is the attention to detail incredible, there is also a care for esthetics that is beyond impressive. During the course of the evening some punters remove their masks from their face to their head (spoilers) and it becomes immediately obvious that the masked faces really are an integral part of the look of the show.
Most impressive maybe is the space you explore. It is absolutely huge, and the vision of the creators and the designers is impressive if only for its scale. The quality of the set, lights, sound is undeniable and if you have never seen Punchdrunk before, it is worth going just to be thrown in to this parallel universe. This space is both dark and playful, but sometimes also worrying and desolate. The friend I met today tells me of first being brought to the building and being instructed to play hide and seek with the rest of the company, finding the place she found safest, but also the place in which she felt most vulnerable. All of this in complete darkness – ‘terrifying’ were her words.
Punchdrunk seem to constantly follow this kind of playful versus dark and tortuous line, always leaving you to guess what might come next. The story is in itself quite dark, but you will also see some great moments of ‘show’ complete with magicians, clowns, and Grease style singing!
The performers are fabulous. Despite knowing many of the faces in the show, they really became entirely different people to me and I watched on not as friend, but as another member of the audience.
The choreography was challenging and fast paced, dangerous and seductive. Something for both the dance fiend, and the dance novice. It amazed me that despite this many audience members seemed to drift off during the dancing, pursuing action elsewhere. It amazed me even more when you consider that Punchdrunk is very much anchored in the ‘moving’ world.
There were however definite frustrations linked to the work. Despite knowing the story line before I headed there, I found the plot impossible to follow through. If you are after a clear narrative, you may have to let this go… Due to the amount of people in the space it is also very hard to keep following a character – they turn a corner and they are gone until you bump into them an hour later…
Maybe the most difficult aspect of it is the lack of emotional connexion with the performers. Despite one-on-one moments between audience and performer, you are still very much an external observer. The audience is not part of the plot, and without understanding the story either, one is left extremely unfazed when dramatic fates meet the protagonists.
I would however go back and experience it again. I know I left corners of the building undiscovered, and I would definitely see a different performance on a every different attendance. If you can digest the steep ticket price I would still recommend it. It is an impressive effort to take an audience elsewhere for three hours, and it will definitely give you something to talk about!
If you do go, do be appreciative of these artists’ work. It bewilders me that every night people walk off with some of the objects from the set, or feel so untouchable that they behave disrespectfully towards the performers.
The show runs until December. Whether you have seen Punchdrunk before or not, do go. Not to say you followed the hype, but because you want to take the trip away from London and to the twisted world of Temple Studios.

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