National Theatre, London & Punchdrunk
Above: Laure Bachelot (Mary). Photo by Pari
Review by Jo Tomalin
Laure Bachelot (Mary) and Omar Gordon (William).
Photo by Pari
The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable – London’s Cult Hit
The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable is the latest cult hit sweeping London. This creative play is co-produced by the award-winning Punchdrunk, a company known for its immersive theatre, and Britain’s renowned world-class National Theatre. Directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, the run started in June 2013, gathered momentum fast and will continue to the end of December, 2013, so you can still catch it if you visit London.
Inspired by Büchner’s fractured masterpiece Woyzeck, the story follows a couple (Wendy and Marshall) through their imagination of a desolate Hollywood movie set in the Temple Studios, located near Paddington Station.
Fionn Cox-Davies (Marshall) and Sophie Bortolussi (Wendy).
Photo by Pari
This is a promenade performance where the audience is part of the event walking around as actors appear in fleeting moments of dramatic emotion and disappear just as fast. What is different in this production is that every audience member has to wear a gray Venetian style mask throughout the two to three hour evening – only permitted to take it off as they enter the bar for a break or when they exit the studios. This is unusual and it not only makes a natural separation between the actors playing characters, but it also looks eerily daunting as you look out at the sea of masked faces watching emotive scenes voyeuristically.
Jane Leaney (Dolores Grey).
Photo by Pari
Punchdrunk’s Temple Studios inhabit four immense floors of a now disused warehouse in Paddington. Each floor is a vast set that transcends into a netherworld-like environment that engulfs, surprises, jolts and excites. The lower floors are more like abstract art installations with eerie lighting design by Mike Gunning, vibrant pulsating soundscapes by Magnus Fiennes and Stephen Dobbie, and various objets and materials. Walking through the many doors, alleys then crossing large dark expanses on the lower levels is unnerving at first, yet the upper floors are full of remarkably designed and derelect movie sets to explore. Throughout the floors of Temple Studios the large cast of multi-talented actors are living their characters’ visceral, mortal moments on these retro movie sets, beautifully costumed by Jack Galloway.
Among the painstakingly detailed sets designed by Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns are small airstream shape caravans/actor trailers, abandoned production offices, a costumer’s studio with an unhappy actress, memorabilia, seedy motel rooms, a barber shop, a café, a bar with a male singer in sequined drag, a chapel, and a desert.
Sophie Bortolussi (Wendy).
Photo by Pari
While there is no set schedule of scenes to see, the deal is to be free to explore at will – alone – “to make your own movie” and when you find a character or two, observe and follow to see what they do next – or not. Most of the excellent fine tuned action is silent, physical or danced (choreography by Maxine Doyle), peppered with a rare song or spoken dialogue.
As the audience wanders around they may witness a happy couple, a visceral love triangle, deceit, sadness and more – however, the evening ends on an exhilarating tone with a clever twist.
This production is unique and brilliant. The moments experienced by participants often stay for days – but do not expect a linear story. In fact, if you go forget all of this, take the advice of Felix Barrett, Punchdrunk’s founder and separate from your friends to discover your own movie.
Don’t project or expect what may happen – or you will be disappointed. Just go and be, explore, enter every door – and like the actors at Temple Studios, live in the moment.
Trailer: The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable
Punchdrunk Company: http://punchdrunk.com
National Theatre, London: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
Jo Tomalin Reviews: Dance & Theatre Performances