Tag Archives: The Drowned Man

Fascination Punchdrunk

24 May

I posted the following thoughts on my other blog a couple of months ago. Due to lack of time said other blog has been neglected for ages and will probably vanish in the not too far away future. However, this post is theatre related and I figured I might as well make it a part of my theatre blog. I know most of my readers watch “regular” theatre: Musicals and straight plays. A lot have probably never been to an immersive show. But maybe even those who have had no contact with this form of theatre so far will find the following interesting.

Why do I love Punchdrunk and what do I get out of their shows? I’ve been asked about this several times so I thought I’d try and answer once and for all.

For those who don’t know: Punchdrunk are a British theatre company who specialise in immersive shows. They take over whole buildings and transform them into a huge and insanely detailed set. The masked audience is free to explore the set and follow performers who play out a story throughout the building. Now and then an audience member will get chosen for a very personal one on one performance with a performer and if you are lucky you might even get a walk out at the end of the show – the most personal way to end a Punchdrunk performance. Usually a Punchdrunk show lasts 3 hours in which the characters play out their one hour long  story (called loop) three times. That way the audience has the chance to see several storylines, revisit favourite scenes or watch narratives from different angles.
I got hooked on Punchdrunk through their production The Drowned Man which ran in a former postal sorting office next to Paddington Station for a year. The building had been transformed into the 1960s film studio Temple Studios (including a western town, a desert and so much more), the story was a take on Woycek with references to Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust. My current Punchdrunk obsession is Sleep No More in New York which tells the story of Macbeth in a 1930s hotel (The McKittrick) with references to Hitchcock’s Rebecca. I attended The Drowned Man 34 times in just 4 months (I was late to the party, something I will always regret) and have seen Sleep No More 45 times so far.


The Drowned Man

The number of visits alone is enough to produce raised eyebrows whenever I talk about my love for Punchdrunk shows. Even though I have seen other, regular theatre productions more it is the fact that I will happily watch 10 Punchdrunk performances in a row without ever getting bored. It sounds insane and people keep asking what makes me go back again and again.


Sleep No More

First of all it’s the quality of performance you get to see when attending a Punchdrunk show. Some of the finest dancers and actors can be found in their productions and watching these guys and girls do what they do best while often standing just a few metres away is breathtaking. The second aspect is the set. Attending a Punchdrunk show is more than just watching a performance. You are transported into another world the minute you enter the building. I used to say going to see The Drowned Man was like visiting my second home. And it really felt like that after a while. When The Drowned Man closed I honestly felt like I had lost my save place – the place I could spend three hours in and forget about the outside world.


The Hotel Lobby in Sleep No More

I guess that’s one of the main things that attracts me to Punchdrunk. Watching their shows means leaving everything else behind for the time being. It’s like a timeout from regular life. You get to be in a different world and to a certain extend you become someone else too. There is definitely a psychological aspect to it – everyone wants to break out sometime. I don’t consider myself the most outgoing person in real life. I don’t trust people easily. However, in a Punchdrunk show I have no problem putting my trust into a (most of the time) complete stranger. I don’t know most of the performers in the show and yet I’ve let them blindfold me, take me into pitch black rooms, force feed me oranges (don’t ask) and I’ve drunk whatever they have handed me without asking what exactly I was about to swallow. It’s the strange thing a Punchdrunk show will do to me. I become obedient in a way but it also sets me free. No worries, no second thoughts, no pondering if doing this or that is a good idea or not. In a Punchdrunk show I can just BE. It’s like walking around in a dream and it gives me goosebumps every single time. The thrill cannot be described, it has to be experienced.


The desert in The Drowned Man

The Drowned Man probably described it best in one of its most used quotes: “We live inside a dream.” This is exactly what Punchdrunk shows are for me. The chance to live in another reality, if only for a few hours. And who doesn’t want that now and then.

You can find out about Punchdrunk’s latest ventures here.
And if you are ever in New York I urge you to check into The McKittrick for an evening.

A personal message

17 Jul

I was planning to post several reviews this week catching up with all the shows I saw on my last trip to London and Leeds. However, on Monday I received a message that put a stop to those plans. At the end of last week a friend of mine sadly passed away unexpectedly.

Brian was a kind and funny man. He travelled all the way from Colorado to watch The Drowned Man in London again and again (my trips from Germany were nothing compared to his efforts to see the show!). I only saw him a couple of weeks ago on my last trip to New York. It seems unreal that I will never wait in the queue with him again pre Sleep No more, never have a post show drink in the Manderley with him again, never meet up for brunch at The Heath on a Sunday again.
He was such a vital part of the Punchdrunk community sharing his experiences in (sometimes insanely detailed) show write ups. Everyone who spoke to Brian about The Drowned Man or Sleep No More would notice how his eyes lit up when he talked about his favourite characters and performers. He once said Punchdrunk completely changed his outlook on life.

You can find Brian’s show reports in his blog: http://shuttersopen.tumblr.com/. Read them even if you have no connection to the shows. Brian’s passion and enthusiasm for the things he loved most is infectious.

I’ve decided to talk about this on here because a donation page has been set up in Brian’s memory. Every pound goes directly to Punchdrunk and so helps to support future projects that hopefully will have just as much of an impact on others as The Drowned Man and Sleep No More had on Brian.

Please take a look, give if you can or just think of Brian for a minute and share. We want the memory of Brian to live on through his love for Punchdrunk.


The Drowned Man – Temple Studios

25 Mar

It is very rare I find myself in the situation of being completely unable to review a show after watching it for the first time. Sometimes putting together a review can be a challenge because it is hard to remember details when I am watching a show I am completely unfamiliar with. But usually I have built up an opinion and know the reasons behind my views of the individual performances and the show as a whole.

And then I went to see The Drowned Man, the latest production by Punchdrunk. Actually the term “see” doesn’t do the show justice. You don’t go and see The Drowned Man. You experience it, you become a part of it, you dive into another world – and trust me, I am not exaggerating.


Set in Temple Studios – a fictional film studio – The Drowned Man is a promenade performance that lets the audience (who are wearing white masks throughout the performance) find their own path and explore the set, follow the performers and experience the story they tell through dance and acting up close.
The sets within the building represent internal and external locations within Temple Studios and the outskirts of the town nearby which it is situated. The two main stories mirror each other, both telling the story of a couple – one within Temple Studios and one living on the outskirts of the town. The main characters play out a tragic love story while the various supporting characters embellish the details of that story but also have some independent side-stories of their own. Many aspects of the narrative are based on Georg Buchner’s unfinished play Woyzeck including the main themes.


It is hard to describe what it feels like to enter the set and start making your way through the different rooms in the film studio, the trailer park, the desert and such. It’s overwhelming and a bit scary and I admit I felt a bit lost during my first visit. The performance lasts for up to 3 hours which sounds like a lot of time but once you are inside Temple Studios you realise there is so much to see and 3 hours won’t even give you the chance to explore 25% of what the show has to offer. If I had to say how much of The Drowned Man I saw on my first visit my answer would be 5-10%. I spent a while following one of the main characters, explored two floors a bit, ran into some other characters and I was lucky enough to see both murders that happen in the show. But that’s about it – I didn’t even reach the basement floor and spent most of my time in town, mainly because I was drawn to a certain character as soon as I stumbled upon him (or better: as soon as he almost ran into me on his drunken walk around town) and decided to stick with him. But then that is what The Drowned Man is all about. It’s not about seeing the whole thing – it’s about finding your own path and having a unique and personal experience. If that means following a drunk character who staggers around town muttering abuse (and occasionally offers you a shot in the Saloon if you are lucky enough) then that is perfectly fine.


Since my first visit I have come back two times and each time I have been able to grasp more of the whole experience that is The Drowned Man. On my second visit I followed one character for his whole loop (each character’s story loop lasts an hour, then it starts all over again theoretically giving you the chance to follow three characters’ complete loop during one visit) and I was rewarded with both of his 1:1s. What is a 1:1 you will now ask? A lot of the characters have one or more scenes they act out with just one audience member, usually in a locked room. These 1:1s are a pretty intense experience. I won’t say what happened in my two 1:1s with Mr. Stanford – the character I followed first on my second visit or in my 1:1 with Badlands Jack – my favourite drunk town character (huge thumbs up to Sean Edwards who is so wonderfully physical in his portrayal of Badlands – I was completely in awe), as the show relies heavily on the mystery and secrecy surrounding it. Lets just say this much: If you have a problem with strangers heavily invading your personal space you might want to avoid the 1:1s. They are a nice opportunity to get rid of the mask for a while though as often the performers will take if off your face during the 1:1. Plus I have to say personally I loved being included in the character’s story for at least a few minutes no matter how creeped out I was – a 1:1 is a proper thrill, simple as that.


So should you go and experience The Drowned Man? Absolutely! Just don’t expect a normal theatre experience and go in there with an open mind and a healthy amount of curiosity. Don’t try and research the show too much beforehand – find your own way in there. The show encourages you to explore on your own and I can only tell you to go along with this. Don’t stick to your companions – wander off and enjoy 3 hours in another world, then meet your friends in the bar afterwards and compare your experiences.

I cannot recommend The Drowned Man highly enough. It is disturbing, a little creepy and odd in parts but it is also fascinating and slightly mind-blowing – all in all, an experience you don’t want to miss out on. The show is currently booking until May but an extension is likely. However, don’t leave it until last-minute because chances are high one visit won’t be enough.

For info and to book tickets visit http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable.

To find out more about Punchdrunk and their work go to http://punchdrunk.com.