Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.

Last week I went to see Punch Drunk’s latest show The Drowned Man at Temple Studios near Paddington.

(Image taken from the National Theatre website)

(Image taken from the National Theatre website)

I was filled with trepidation before I went, for a number of reasons. Firstly – immersive theatre. I had no idea what to expect, I was kind of thinking along the lines of The London Dungeon with some interpretive dance thrown in for good measure. What if they jump out at me from behind a curtain? What if they – god forbid – make me join in? I’m not a joiner. I prefer passive participation to getting up on stage and improvising a moving scene with nothing but a stranger and a prop for company. Secondly, I had heard some mixed reviews from friends about the show. Some people seem to have found it completely transformative, practically giving up all other social interaction in favour of going to see the show as often as possible, ekeing out as much meaning from it as they could. Others, however, were more lukewarm – one saying that the shoe was so busy they could never shake the other audience members and it didn’t feel like an intimate show as much as a bunch of people in masks straining to hear what was being said by people they could barely see. And another just felt kind of baffled by it all, not knowing if the people they were watching were the right choices, and always feeling there was something better they were missing just around the corner.

But mainly the London Dungeon thing.

When we first arrived at the venue – a huge ex-postal sorting office set over 5 floors – I was nervous to say the least. This wasn’t helped by the fact that almost immediately after entering my sister and I lost the rest of our group. No matter, we thought, we’ll just simply don our Eyes Wide Shut-esque masks of doom and carry on. Almost immediately we lost ourselves in this strange world of film studios and dive bars – and when we emerged  -separately –  blinking into the bar three hours later we couldn’t wait to find out what we each had discovered and how it added to what we had learnt on our adventures

I don’t want to give much away, because most of the joy in the evening is in discovering it for yourself, but briefly – the story is based on Woyzeck – a stage play by Georg Buchner – and tells two mirrored stories of adultery and murder.

As I said before, we spent 3 hours in there, and the time just flew by. I started off going around with my sister, but when she got taken into a room by the mysterious (and very creepy) doctor, I spent the rest of the time choosing my own path, and it’s this way I really think you get to make the most of your time there.

Punchdrunk: Sophie Bortolussi in The Drowned Man

(Image taken from theguardian.com)

It’s hard to describe what you see when you’re in there, as everyone has a very different experience depending on which characters they choose to spend time with (and there are a lot to choose from – 40 in total I think, although doubt I even saw half of them) – but the atmosphere really is everything, with the lighting and music and dark corridors all adding to the impending sense of tragedy.

And it’s very easy to find yourself alone. Completely alone. Some of those rooms, man. Nightmares are born in there.

The dancing and choreography was spectacular – particular standout moments for me were William and Mary’s duet on the car, Dwayne’s descent into madness in the desert and Wendy’s beautiful and moving solo dance through the forest. This was so beautifully lit , with the lighting coming from behind putting her in silhouette as she danced through the trees it was almost magical.

Although I don’t think I’m a confirmed groupie, I definitely want to see this again, following different characters and seeing what more I can glean of the stories. From talking to my friends at the end there were whole character arcs and plot points I had missed – just as there were for them when they heard my experience. Things like my tales of the sound effects girl who takes her job a little too seriously were met with blank looks from my friends, whilst I was just bemused when they all started talking about the postcards they’d seen get passed around. It’s all part of the mystery.

If you haven’t already seen this, I highly recommend that you do so. Get tickets from the National Theatre website here – the prices start at 35 pounds, and it looks like it’s on until July. Don’t be put off by the “immersive” tag, just take a deep breath and go with it – it’s worth it, and the more you put in, the more you get out of it. Oh, and wear comfortable shoes – if you do it right, you’ll cover a lot of ground while you’re in there. And maybe come out of the other side a changed person.

Today’s quote is from Victor Hugo in Les Miserables.

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