Review: Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable

Paul Zivkovich and Kate Jackson in Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man. Photo: Perou

Paul Zivkovich and Kate Jackson in Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man. Photo: Perou

I thought long and hard how to start this review. Or even whether I should write it. Because Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man plays a trick on you. If it’s performance, where is it? If it’s a walk among someone’s life, random, rambling, often boring, why should I review it?

Admittedly, it’s a gorgeously lit, gorgeously designed walk: motels, boudoirs, bedrooms, forests, trailer parks, sand dunes, diners. People were walking around trying to latch onto the details, find meaning on the minutiae. If there was a story, I didn’t find it. Without the story, the action was falling apart: if I am honest, most of the performed action was banal.

There were interesting elements of passages that would only open if you were there at the right time, like a portal in His Dark Materials. The movement of the audience was fascinating, chasing around what little action there was, converging and dispersing. A small dressing room with one person watched over by a dozen people in white donald duck masks was surreal.

Despite the immersive approach – and the audience being hugely important visually, this is the least interactive production I have ever seen. It’s shocking that the audience is so close and yet so absent. An invisible barrier was between the performers and us, much more so than in conventional theatre. This was no (fourth) wall, this was a fortress.

Walking around gave me time to think: What would happen if we were locked in and we started eating each other for survival? If I pick up this prop phone, will I be able to make a call out? Here is the guy with the Beatles t-shirt we came across earlier.

I saw it yesterday and today I have the strange compulsion to go again, maybe in a few months. This is surprising to me, as I definitely didn’t have such thoughts yesterday. Maybe it’s a victory of sorts for the production, maybe it’s the feeling I missed something. Of one thing I am certain: the scale of anticipation works against the production. Punchdrunk might be too big for the type of show they want to produce. Time will tell.

Back in March, I wrote a post about the pricing system with this production. Those objections still stand, and they are not irrelevant to the audience’s experience.

P.S. The production is based on Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, a story steeped in the tragedy of its characters and the playwright’s fate. Anyone staging a production of this play, I am there.

You can read revstan’s thoughts on the production here.

Update 28/6/2013: It’s been a week since I went to see (experience?) The Drowned Man. The core part of my review still stands, but the aftertaste is coloured by the discussion that, in many ways, has been more fascinating than the production itself. The comments below show a level of engagement that took me by surprise. And other reviews posted online represent a wide range of reactions. As well as revstan’s review linked above you can read:

John Wyver – Illuminations for the references

The West End Whingers for the tips

Ian (Oughttobeclowns) for level headedness

Rashbre for enthusiasm

Update 14/7/2013: With such a fascinating response to the production, I was compelled to write another post: Another look at the Drowned Man, five things I learned about Punchdrunk (and a few questions)

60 responses to “Review: Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable

  1. Couldn’t agree more with your review. We saw it on Friday night (my partner was also happened to be wearing a Beatles t-shirt) and left with an overwhelming sense of disappointment and frustration. The sets and the details inside them were fantastic (btw, I picked up all the phones, they didn’t work) but there was something vital missing … any discernible storyline. I didn’t enjoy being treated like a Big Brother viewer; simply hanging around and waiting for something exciting to happen. Any time I did find some action it was usually an angst ridden dance be it on a car or in a bar which sadly didn’t convey any part of the supposed plot line to me. Was I in the wrong place at every action opportunity?

    • If you saw it at around 6pm, maybe it is your partner who I remember. Many people wonder “was I in the wrong place?” which in itself feels a bit of a failure for the production.

  2. Agreed. Saw it on Saturday. I loved the Red Death production, maybe because it was a first experience but there was definitely more interaction with the audience in that one, I was involved in one way or another on several occasions, at one point dragged into a room, held up against a wall by my throat and had brandy poured into my mouth from a hip flask. It was no wonder I came out of that one delighted at the experience!

    This one had none of that. It was all about the set design, the sounds and the atmosphere which, while enjoyable, just wasn’t enough. At the end I was left watching a group of actors with no connection to them whatsoever, it was like they were just there for themselves, enjoying being part of the trendy but insular theatre company while we looked on wondering what the hell it was supposed to have been about. And no wonder – there were so few of them and the location was vast, the drama was bound to be thin on the ground and what little there was was mostly meaningless, often dull.

    It is still an unusual experience (one of the most enjoyable bits was the unsettling entry into the production through the pitch black corridors) and perhaps as a first timer you will enjoy it purely for that alone but I needed it to engage me more and it failed to deliver.

    • Thank you for your comment, especially the Red Death story. It is impressive / mad / unforgettable, all at the same time.
      Seeing this production, I was a first timer with Punchdrunk and I can’t decide whether that was an advantage or disadvantage: some audience members with more experience seemed to have a planned approach, and got more out of it. In the end, the production has to deliver equally for old timers and newcomers. It doesn’t quite succeed.

    • Just on the interaction with the actors point, there was stuff like that in the Drowned Man too – at Red Death I wandered around unmolested and my wife got dragged off left right and centre, and vice versa at the Drowned Man. I agree that the space was so vast that it is always going to be more difficult to be serendipitously positioned but my solution is just to go more than once!

  3. We saw the production last night and very much agree with your review. Without a clear narrative we were left not feeling anything for the characters. I think a less is more approach would have been better – one story on one floor on a loop that you’d have an opportunity to see several times from different perspectives by following different characters and piecing together the story. We’d have also appreciated more dialogue and less interpretive dance!

    There’s a definite sense of missing out on action which makes it confusing. I’ve read on http://metro.co.uk/2013/06/20/punchdrunks-hugely-ambitious-the-drowned-man-takes-their-immersive-theatre-to-a-new-level-3847739 that there were two versions of the play simultaneously with a male lead and female lead and that the sheet they gave us to read before going in outlined that, but it too dark to read it!

    Certainly an interesting experience and the scale of the place and set design is impressive but we found ourselves not really caring for what was going on, or just confused by it! If it was cheaper we wouldn’t have minded, but £30 a ticket left us feeling disappointed.

    Reviews of the play also seem to be absent from mainstream press – are they under embargo or too afraid to criticise such an ambitious production?

    I too saw the Red Death production which was the reason we went to this – agree with the above comments that the interaction with the audience in that performance brought it to life, it was like we were part of the experience rather than an outsider.

    • I would love to see different perspectives of the same thing. Or different variations. My feeling is the space overwhelmed everything else: action, expectations, focus.

      As Darren said, there will be press reviews next week. After that, the cheapest standard ticket will be £47.5. That puts things into perspective (and not in a good way).

    • This production is still previewing that is why you will not see any reviews in the press yet it is still in its infancy. I thought and so did my party a remarkable production. I have seen all of Punchdrunk’s productions. You all obviously do not understand the story of Woyzek. Did you not see the operation and the surgery on the downstairs floor? The Drowning man on the third floor.Woyzeck deals with the dehumanising effects of doctors and the military on a young man’s life. That is the point of the story. The sexual and the pitiful lives. The original script was unfinished therefore it can be finished anyway. Georg Buchner died before he finished the script, Büchner studied medicine in Strasbourg.
      This was a remarkable performance……..
      Sorry you felt like that. You missed the point!

  4. You are aware that you went to see Preview Performances? They were clearly marked as such on the National Theatre page, and not only that, they were the first 4 performances of it with an audience in the building. It’s not yet meant to be complete, and neither should it be in preview.

    Also – pricing. I don’t know, to me whilst I acknowledge it is expensive, it’s NOT EVEN CLOSE to the top price you’d pay for a West End show (where I’ve barely had a stalls or dress circle seat for under £60 in years), and for that you get a production which is far more detailed than any set you’d see on stage. With Punchdrunk experiences I’ve had before on Sleep No More I have to say that when it ‘hits’ it is so much more overwhelming and so far beyond anything you would experience in a straightforward theatre that West End prices are sickening in comparison. That said – by its very nature it cannot gurantee each individual audience member the same experience, and neither should it hand-hold people as the thrill is in discovery, and that is very very problematic, esp anyone who kinda of expects the performance to come to them. You do genuinly have to work for your supper with Punchdrunk. If you stand there and go ‘come on, impress me’, then you aren’t going to be impressed – something which again I acknowledge is problematic, as after paying a lot for the ticket you are probably entitled to go ‘come on, impress me’ a bit!

    There are a few things you bring up (in the comments and in both your reviews) that I would have thought were common knowledge about Punchdrunk but suggest you were surprised at them…

    1. The ‘Contemporary dance’ aspect. Yes, that’s what Punchdrunk do, it’s movement based and largely silent, they always have been. I knew this going into SNM and was fine with it, and felt that it only added to the sense of madness and terror in that production. I have to say though, I REALLY wish they stated that aspect of it on the NT blurb page for the production, again to make sure people buy the tickets fully aware of what they are seeing.

    2. Masks and glasses. I’m a glasses wearer, it was a bit of a pain to be sure. But again, surely you knew about the masks when you booked? You must have thought ‘oh, will this be comfortable with glasses?’. Also – did you get a mail the day before the performance about using contacts if you have them? But again, they need to state that on the main blurb page. They mention you need good footwear, so they really should mention that contacts are better than glasses too.

    3. You comment about watching groups of people chase the performers in a way that suggests you were quite detatched from from those groups. Why didn’t you start chasing them around and engaging with it that way? That’s one of the points of Punchdrunk, find a character and follow them to see their progression. Apologies if you did do this and still found no narrative.

    4. Interaction. I sadly missed out on Masque, but reviews do suggest that there was more interaction with audience members than in SNM and this new production. Now I’ve never seen Punchdrunk as ‘interactive’ so it’s not something that bothers me, I like the fact that you can be distressingly, voyeuristically close to something and still be removed from it as to me it’s that discrepancy that produces a sense of dreamlike fear and madness. I think TDM will get more interactive as it goes however in terms of one on ones and interactions with audience members (SNM certainly is far more interactive now than when it started) but sadly I think there are just too many people at each night for them to do what they did with Masque. It was notable in SNM that the first hour was the best (the time when there were the least people) but by the end of the three hours you would very rarely find a space where you were alone.

    I am looking forward to seeing the production in a few weeks time, yet trying to manage expectations as really it has no chance of living up to SNM which was so slick and jam packed full of stuff by the time I saw it last year! As people have said – expectations are a big thing with Punchdrunk, and I do think they could do a LOT more to let people know what they are buying tickets for (although a quick net search before you buy does also let you know what to expect). Also – whilst I understand how Woyzeck fits with their style perfectly, and how it birthed the company, I think for their biggest show ever it is a bit wilfully obscure and self-indulgent compared to the things they have staged before, esp as what there is of the plot will undoubtably have been obfuscated even more.

    I don’t know how I feel about Premium tickets, but I did buy one for the first of the three performances I’m seeing :-s, and as no premium ticket holders have so far commented about what it entails I guess we’ll have to wait and see if it’s worth it. It will be interesting to see if I can use knowledge of any ‘secrets’ in the subsequent performances – ie, are they only for Premium ticket holders, or does it just mean you are directed to them instead of just stumbling upon them? Hmmmm…

    I mean, I know for a fact that whatever Punchdrunk show I see I will always always believe Faust and Masque would have been better :))

    Sorry for the long and tambling nature of this, but RevStan esp seemed genuinly angry about his experience and I personally think that maybe he was there with the wrong frame of mind and attitude (the fact that he seemed to have gotten more out of arguing with a staff member about the masks speaks volumes), and didn’t really understand the nature of a preview – it’s notable that you don’t mention the word ‘preview’, let alone ‘only the 2nd / 3rd preview’ in the review.

    I’m not trying to be a dick, because there are a lot of points I can totally understand, but I think overall the review may have been a little unfair on the production.

    • Well it will be interesting to see how you feel about it after you’ve actually seen it. You do definitely have to work for your entertainment and follow the actors with Punchdrunk and that accounts for much of its charm but with TDM it is also its downfall due to the scale of the location, which is great to explore, but isn’t matched by the quantity and dare I say, quality, of the action. You chase and follow but all too often end up wondering why you did when nothing of note pans out and you have to wander off in search of something else. You get hints and brief snatches of really good stuff but not enough of it and in a way that’s more annoying. Perhaps, and I hope, they will expand the company and the narrative set pieces by the time you see it but I wouldn’t put money on that happening.

    • I am fully aware this was a preview. I see most productions in previews for a variety of reasons (prices, the thrill of seeing it before anyone else, not wanting to be spoiled by other people’s impressions. Even the nervousness of the performers is appealing). And I discovered two things:
      a) a production seriously lacking in previews rarely develops in a masterpiece.
      b) a production evolves throughout its lifetime, even after press night. So any review is for the night someone has attended. Previews are not much different.

      Irritants such as the heat or masks over glasses don’t matter. A single transcendent moment would have made the production for me. And that didn’t happen.

      I don’t think I was being passive, and I am fully aware the commitment and openness required to enjoy any stage production. But there are – or at least should be – different ways to be part of it. Otherwise it becomes too prescriptive.

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a lengthy – but in no way rambling – post, come back and tell us how the experience differed for premium and standard ticket holders, I am very interested to know.

  5. I saw it tonight and thought it was fantastic. I’ve been to Punchdrunk productions before and enjoyed this just as much. I saw a ton of action (though I would recommend choosing one or two characters to follow for at least an hour to get their full story) and thought the way the performers expressed the emotions within the story was incredible. Do read a synopsis of Woyzeck before you go. Just let yourself go and explore as much as you can – if you want to see action then follow the characters rather than spending a long time rooting around in the set. That’s the approach I took and I came out feeling exhilarated and feeling like every penny was well spent. This was in stark contrast to the most recent Secret Cinema production – I just hope someone from SC goes to this to learn what real immersive art should be…

  6. I was there yesterday, in the knowledge that it’s still in preview. I did also see Masque at BAC, so I presumed I knew the format for this large scale production.

    I enjoyed it and already have further tickets to go again. Reading your review, afew points occurred to me also:

    -it’s early in the run with the real audience and I suspect that some of the smaller details of interaction will develop as it goes along. Some areas are already starting this…The consultancy area was a good example, but will get easier as the types of reaction of the audience can be judged and played against.

    -I’m guessing that the obvious gate is also significant as a way to cross over between the parallel story lines? although I was still piecing it together at the time.

    – There’s a need to mix time watching the action with time exploring – I did find the darkness made the examination of detail more tricky here than I remember at BAC. I guess it will also take the audiences a little time to build confidence to go it alone.

    – The Masque of Red Death was already a quite large space; this one seems much larger. I’m sure there were more ‘secrets’ at TDM to explore than I found. I remember (e.g) the wardrobe in Masque which led to the fireplace. I can’t help thinking I’ve so far only found obvious secrets in this show.

    – I’ve put my early non spoiler review over on rashbre central…I’ve already got tix for another show, post the preview period.

    http://rashbre2.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/the-drowned-man-punchdrunk.html

  7. I’m a glasses wearer – I don’t need them for reading or a computer screen so contacts aren’t necessary or practical.

    If, as reported, the masks are uncomfortable or restrict my view when worn over glasses then it will bug me immensely if I’m MADE to wear a mask for the entirety of the evening! This definitely wasn’t clearly signposted in advertising material for the show. Masks were mentioned in some promo articles but not as compulsory.

    • I wear glasses and didn’t find it that uncomfortable to wear the mask – in fact, as the glasses kept the plastic off my face, I thought maybe I was in less discomfort than other people. It does get very hot and sweaty in there!

    • As I made the primary booking, the masks were noted in the email I received and they advised to wear contacts.

  8. “… at one point dragged into a room, held up against a wall by my throat and had brandy poured into my mouth from a hip flask” ??????
    If anyone forced brandy down my throat, or even attempted to, as part of what is – at core – supposed to be an intelligent entertainment/event (TMOTRD), I would, as a recovering alcoholic who was once literally dying from the disease of alcoholism, and who has not taken a drink in years, be outraged and deeply distressed to such a degree I would sue Felix and his company for assault. And I would have no qualms about doing so.
    So much breathless “chasing” of performers and narrative clues… really, just an expensively glammed-up Murder Mystery Weekend. At such bloated, almost obscene prices, a show needs to do a lot more than make ME work for it. At those prices, *you* can chase *me*. And give me a good reason not to demand a refund.
    Then again, an ex-pat-Brit-now-naturalized-American, I actually live – have done for years – on a rather pretty street between Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards in the heart of Old Hollywood. The British do tend habitually to misunderstand Hollywood, both as a specific location and as a generic term for film and television industry.

    • It was all done in a way that made it obviously consensual on my part. I could have easily have refused the hip flask, in a way we were both playing a part. It was fun.

      I don’t think the stereotype of Hollywood is peculiar to the British. The US itself plays on that image more than anyone. Don’t fall into the typical expat trap of denigrating the entire country now that you have moved on to what you perceive to be a better life, although I can see why you chose Hollywood, you seem like a bit of a DQ :o)

    • From Wikipedia

      DQ may stand for:

      Disqualification (boxing)
      Dairy Queen, a fast food chain
      Dan Quayle, an American politician
      Data quality
      DQ (artist), a Danish singer, participant in Eurovision Song Contest 2007
      Dragon Quest (formerly known as Dragon Warrior in North America), a series of console role-playing games created by Enix (now Square Enix)
      DragonQuest, a role-playing game created by SPI
      Drama Queen, see histrionic personality disorder
      Dressage Queen, a stereotyped subgroup of horse enthusiast
      the Jarvis Island FIPS PUB 10-4 territory code
      a Human leukocyte antigen type HLA DQ encoded by the HLA DQA1 & DQB1 loci
      The IATA code for Coastal Air Transport
      Directory enquiries (Directory assistance), a service that provides telephone directory assistance
      Double-ended queue

      I think we all wanted to learn these things today.

  9. I don’t understand how anyone could say there was no narrative in TDM. I think you must have just not followed any individual characters for long enough. I’ve never been to a Punchdrunk show so went with no expectations, and no idea of what was going to happen other than a vague idea about interaction – the thought of which scared me. So I was relieved that I didn’t have any interaction with any characters – although I hear that some people have done. I wandered around reasonably aimlessly for about half an hour, exploring lots of the spaces and briefly following a variety of characters, until I came across a character I really liked, and decided to follow her. Turned out she was in the Day of the Locust storyline but she interacted with lots of the main characters. I became completely absorbed, and loved the whole thing. Just beautiful and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it over the last 24 hours. Will absolutely definitely go again – I want to follow the Woyzeck storyline (or one of) as I caught the end of that just before the whole thing finished (the end was the only real disappointment – and only a mild one). And funnily enough I’d be up for some interaction next time round. And I’ll get an early ticket so I have as long as possible to explore.

    • You are the first person I know who, without prior Punchdrunk experience, loved this show. Which is interesting because I was ready to propose a theory that the production is not “friendly” to new audiences, but evidently that’s not true.

    • One friend I went with left after 10 minutes (not exactly giving it a chance but it was Gay Pride and he was more worried about missing out on fun!), another friend didn’t really follow anyone in particular and enjoyed it but got slightly bored towards the end so popped to the bar for a drink. But 2 of us absolutely loved it – and I think it was all down to having each decided to stick with one character (not the same one) as long as possible. It suddenly all began to make sense. I loved getting lost in this completely different world. And next time I go I’ll be brave enough to really immerse myself.

    • It was my first time to a punch drunk event too, and I did have high expectations. I too followed a character and loved the intensity you got from being side by side with them! I lost my friends after about 20 minutes, 1 went to the bar then home early, the other 2 stuck together but missed all of the story lines and main finales! Was very interesting talking to them after as they had no idea how anything linked together. Oh well!!

  10. I went Sat evening.. 29th June. First time I have been to a punch drunk production….and myself and gf thought it was one of the best shows we have ever been to ! We are still buzzing now ! and its 3 days later.
    Im so glad i read the reviews on here first… and I followed the advice of following a character for as long as possible… as it was just brilliant.
    First of all , i dont want to give much away.. but they like to split up couples… and as such, i got parted from my GF right in the beginning – they clocked us holding hands.. and threw her out the lift on the first stop… lol
    anyway… i had told her the day before, exactly what to do – follow a character… even when they dash off from scene… just run !! and follow them.. you will be led up stairs, downstairs, and they turn up to a new scene.. and so on.. then after 45 mins you can switch character if you like…
    Being on my own was the best thing that happened ! as i was litterally on the back of the character, following – and not having to worry about making sure my gf was behind me…
    met up with my gf half way through , by pure fluke.. the ending was fantastic.. want to go again ! I felt sorry for the people who ended up in the bar… clearly they didnt know how it works, or how to get the most from it…

  11. After seeing this show tonight it was interesting reading these comments. I wish I had read them before as it would have helped me make any sense of what I had just experienced…

    Well there were a number of positives. The setting was amazing, sound & lighting very well done and an incredible atmosphere. Unfortunately I still have no idea of the story or the acting as I must have mysteriously missed most of the acting as well.

    I agree with your review, I can’t get rid of the feeling I missed something. I was very happy with the bar though and the live entertainment was very good!

    All in all, as a person new to this style of theatre, it was entertaining enough for an evening however I would not go again. Not to this production anyway. The simple lack of anything at all happening is just too boring, and as much as I like trinkets we could only look at cool sixties stuff for so long. I agree with your observation on the audience being detached, I did like the masks though… 🙂

    We totally missed the basement floor which probably didn’t help our experience. My final thought is that this show would have worked so much better when done over half the space, but I guess you can’t fit in as many visitors @ £30 a ticket (or more I hear)…

    • You did , in all honesty , completely miss the point. You were meant to follow 1 character.. and they would lead you to all the floors and scenes , and you would see an entire story unfold.. you would see a huge finale and would feel totally electric from everything you just witnessed… you, unfortunately, were the guys i felt sorry for who didnt know what to do and ended up in the bar.
      PS go again.. follow the advice on following a character.. gaurentee you will enjoy.

    • I totally agree. And if you have the full 3 hours (ie if you get the earliest ticket you can) you even have time to explore and follow 2 characters – they do a couple of loops I think before the finale. It all suddenly makes sense as soon as you do that – you realise just how much is happening around you, which you wouldn’t know at all if you’re exploring by yourself. I know who I want to follow next time (am booked to go again in August and may well go at least another time beyond that) and want to explore more of both the townspeople and the Hollywood exec types’ stories. I’m still thinking about this show 4 days later – I can’t explain just how much I loved it.

    • I went last night, had a 7pm ticket and like Charlie am still thinking about this over and over in my head. Absolutely brilliant! I followed two characters in one story so could piece together most of that narrative (would love to have seen what the minor characters were doing though! and can’t wait to see the other story) definitely booking to go back!

  12. Well, I went tonight and followed the advice to follow a character who turned out to be a doctor. He locked the two of us into a consultation room and “examined” me. It was most unsettling and frankly a little frightening.

    I suddenly got “Woyzeck”‘s paranoia and subsequent mental breakdown.

  13. The good thing about Masque and SNM was that you didn’t need to follow a character to get a feel for the story. Anyone with a basic understanding of Macbeth could understand Sleep No More perfectly even when just exploring the space.

    However, TDM sounds like the complete opposite. The space is simply too big for any proper exploration and there’s so many people in there the creepy, mysterious atmosphere of Masque and Sleep No More simply isn’t there. Apparently it’s 600 people in there when it’s full – for reference, Masque was around 300 and Sleep No More 400 in the current New York production – and that is one of the productions main downfalls: too many people, not enough actors.

    • You sound as though you haven’t seen it yet… I didn’t see Masque (although I always meant to go) or SNM (although if it’s still on when I go to New York next year I probably will) but one of the things I loved about TDM was the fact that I knew that because it was so huge, there was always stuff going on elsewhere. It felt like some weird, freaky, extreme version of real life. Does it really matter if you don’t understand everything that’s happening? Personally, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything – I loved the size of it and the fact that I’ll go back and see a completely different show in August – not least because they’ve apparently made quite a lot of tweaks already since last Saturday. That’s what previews are for after all.

  14. I went on 3rd and I’m still haunted. It was my first experience of a Punchdrunk show and I found it exhilarating. I read some of the reviews here first; took on board the advice to follow the performers, (told my friend to do the same) and then after 20 minutes, disregarded all of it! I didn’t feel comfortable with the herd mentality, so dropped back to explore some of the other areas. I did follow performances, but in a very haphazard way resulting in a very fragmented surreal narrative; which worked for me. I missed loads, (knew I would), and generated my own version of events for some of the areas. Managed to find a “rabbit hole”. Also ended up in places I wasn’t meant to be, and was politely redirected back.
    Performers, set, sound, lighting – all fantastic…I’ll be going back for more, probably more than once.

    Only criticism: didn’t need the plot synopsis on entry.

    Left with a huge grin and a massive headache from having all my senses over-stimulated.

  15. I missed the Wimbledon Final for this. What a spectacularly misconceived, misguided, misdirected, over-priced, underwhelming, up-itself waste of time.

    • another person who didnt know what to do . let me guess… you just wandered around looking for something to happen ? did you follow a character from the start ?

    • One of the best things about this discussion is that people have different experiences and different approaches. Waiting for something to happen is as valid as anything. After all, you should only be expected to follow something interesting. There is a tension between waiting and doing and immersive or interactive theatre poses questions: can participation be taken to extremes? Would you have a production when the performer does nothing, doesn’t even provide the context and all action comes from the audience?

    • Mark, why so keen to blame the audience? It does not say anywhere on the ticket or info that you should follow one actor from the start. Besides they move fast and there are so many people jostling to see them that it’s pretty tough to see even if you’re where the action is at times. Were you one of those rude people elbowing your way to the front?

  16. Well, it’s a bit much, really, when you’re given encouragement by the announcements as you go in to find your own path, and not to let your companion’s decisions guide you to come here and find that that wasn’t what I was meant to do at all. What a fool I am. I should have prepared for this evening’s theatre by reading the play upon which it was based, I should have been guided not just by my companion’s decisions but by the decisions of all of the members of the stampede that flew past me in the wake of an actor, I should have realised that for all the protestations that I should root about in murky corners that I needed actually to stop all that, put the letters down, stop reading the notices, and tear about the building in the hope of finding an actor.

    Not enchanted. I loved the attention to detail of the sets, I loved that even the smells were right, I loved the creepy shrines (but never saw an actor anywhere near one, so they may have been explained somewhere). But to be honest when I did find the actors I wasn’t compelled enough by what they were doing to want to stop looking at the folded paper or the wigs or whatever else I happened to be standing next to. Apparently there was a cinema but I didn’t find it. I spent 5 minutes in the bar, drinking water to replace the water I’d sweated out under the mask. I think not only did I have a slightly disappointing evening at the theatre but I’ll have a souvenir of it in the morning in the form of mask-sweat induced blackheads. Bah.

  17. Going in August, cannot wait. Masque was one of the most captivating experiences I’ve ever had. Any idea which characters will be best to follow in TDM?

    • I really liked following Faye, who is from the Day of the Locust thread but interacts with everyone – mainly on the 1st floor. A friend followed the mime and loved that as he was the only one in places, and he had a one on one with him

  18. I saw this tonight as a newcomer and was simultaneously impressed and baffled. The set, the dance, the soundtrack – fascinating and atmospheric.

    The story… Hmmm. I worked hard trying to follow various actors but they moved fast and the audience was large so you often lost them. The space was huge and you got lost. So much was not obvious that you are only by the end figuring out what your strategy should have been.

    The operation and doctors that someone mentioned above – I investigated all four floors at various times and didn’t see this. The themes I got we’re sex, hedonism, illusion and death – I basically saw a couple of murders and a LOT of shagging/interrupted shagging. But none of the fragments I saw tied together in an especially satisfying way.

    I think to be honest it’s more useful to think of it as an art installation with performance than a piece of theatre.

  19. I’m so glad to read these reviews. I’ve never been to any of Punchdrunk’s other shows before and I specifically didn’t read any press releases for The Drowned Man so that I could go entirely open, but that was obviously a mistake. I realise now that the atmosphere is just that — there was nothing in any of the little details that gave away any crucial information — and that I should have just tagged along with any of the actors. I had no idea that there was any kind of form to the whole affair including a ‘finale’. Between the heat, the confusion, the lack of any kind of through-line and the inability to see most of the live performers because of the swarm of observers I was gone in under two hours.

    I don’t know Woyzeck, never had an opportunity to see it nor have I read it but it’s clear that without that there’s no way to have any kind of experience at all. I left feeling stupid, cheated and pissed off.

  20. I really enjoyed it but it was my first time at Punchdrunk. I was quite worried about going as I had heard so many complaints about it. The spoilers thread on Whatsonstage made it seem very complicated. I have no other Punchdrunk production to compare it to but I thought it was amazing. I was one of the first people in, which helped a lot as I got to see 2 full story loops. I felt that I missed a lot too but that was a given going in and I also felt that I got a lot out of it. (There were 4 floors???) I was concerned about it being too aimless but as I was able to get 2 narratives out of it, I was thrilled. I would go again!

  21. Went last night, to my first Punchdrunk performance. I’m spending my lunch hour reading up on reactions, reviews etc and planning when to go again. Thanks to everyone for all these comments, good and bad – they’re all helping me sift through the unique experience I had.

    Cass – “I’m still haunted” this is just how I feel. Full of feelings, sights and sounds which are stopping me from wanting to continue the book I’m reading, as I’m just not finished with The Drowned Man

    I hunted round for clues, enjoying the rich detail, and the freedom to interact with the world. I only followed people later on, and feel I missed the narrative and characters. Oddly this is not disappointing – although I really must go again and take a different approach – as I feel I’ve absorbed their world through fragments, of which there are an incredible number.

    Some have commented on a lack of emotional connection with the characters, I would agree, but due to not spending enough time with them probably – but this leaves me intrigued, and I almost want to preserve this mystery as it’s key to my experience. The overall experience however, is full of emotion.

    I was convinced by the world, rewarded by the details and the thrill of exploration.
    I opened doors onto bizarre scenes, in rooms crowded with silent viewers, just as I was the only person to see some tiny quiet moments.

    I’ve felt the poetry of the piece, as the story is everywhere. The themes and motifs are a joyous puzzle. I think I now want more meat from my next visit.

    Apologies for the rambling comment, but I can’t concentrate on anything else until I get this out.

  22. So glad to have found this blog. I went yesterday and have never experienced anything like it. I only spent time on the 4th and 5th floors and after half an hour’s intrigued wandering, decided to follow one of the actors and did a loop of his story. I absolutely LOVED it – dreamed about it last night and can’t stop thinking about it. I loved seeing how the stories collided and how we all interpret reality differently according to the part we have played in an event.
    Unfortunately, having experienced a full loop and a bit more, I thought I’d seen it enough to understand the William and Mary story (didn’t realise that there were significant happenings on the other floors that would amplify what I’d already experienced) so I left. When I realised after reading the reviews that I hadn’t stayed until the end, I was gutted, but actually on reflection I got so much from the performance and the whole experience of being by myself and following someone’s perspective, that I feel totally enriched and besotted.
    I was taken into 2 rooms alone by different actors (1 of them by the actor I was following) and given fragments of their points of view. Did this contribute anything to the overall understanding or amplification of the story? Not really, but I felt that the anonymity provided by the mask allowed me to respond and participate and I loved the fact that I played a “part” in the production.
    I would LOVE to go again and see a bit more and enjoy another perspective, if only I wasn’t going back to Dubai tomorrow. It will live on in my mind for a long time to come …

    • I was so happy when I read this blog. At long last someone who actually understood and got it. I too loved the experience as I explained in my first blog. I can’t wait to see it again and follow other characters. I believe the beginning has changed a bit, so I will enjoy seeing/experiencing that. It’s wonderful and I have enjoyed working everything out, it is so intriguing…….

    • good news is that the show has been extended to March 2014 due to phenomenal success. I’m not surprised.
      The star of the show is the endlessly fascinating set (i’ve seen it twice) as opposed to the irrelevant attempts at conventional narrative.
      Next time, Punch Drunk should go more obscure and weird.

  23. Reading these comments replicates the experience of talking to my friends after the show, all of whom had very different, mostly positive experiences. I was firmly in the “loved the set-dressing, where’s the action?” camp, and do probably owe it another visit to get a fair impression, but do have one objective complaint – the David Lynch business has really become a problem.

    Seeing Faust back in 2007 I was very excited by what these guys were doing. But I was also struck by how familiar the sinister 1950s Americana/grimy diner/dustbowl atmosphere of some sections was – not to mention the ubiquitous red drapes. At one point I even recognised a track lifted straight from the soundtrack to ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’. It seemed a bit cheeky but I thought “Fair enough – they’re still finding their way, and besides who doesn’t love Lynch? I’m sure they will grow out of this and find their own style soon enough”.

    Six years later I’m standing in a room with red drapes, black and white floor tiles, and blue strobe lighting, listening to the exact same song from the soundtrack to ‘Fire Walk With Me’. Upstairs, amongst all the stuffed deer heads and flickering TV sets, you can watch a pretty faithful reenactment of the “Sixteen Reasons” audition scene (amongst other scenes and musical stings) borrowed from ‘Mulholland Drive’. A movie studio harbours a mysterious curse – actors are blurring into the characters they play. Someone actually says the line “We are living inside of a dream”.

    Maybe it’s fair game to draw so liberally from one source, when you’re working in a completely different medium, and it’s obvious that there are lots of other influences mixed in too. All I know is that, for me, these particular elements go way past the point where “homage” becomes something a lot more direct. It really seemed like they were expanding their horizons a bit with the more Victorian-ish vibe of ‘Masque’ and ‘Malfi’. At this stage, “doing” Lynch again just feels like a crutch.

  24. The group of friends I went with were all very open to new experiences. Nobody had been to a Punchdrunk performance before or bothered doing a bit of research – and we all loved it! Half our party went feral and disappeared alone into the darkness, the rest of us enjoyed playing in a very dark Wonderland, action occasionally drawing our attention. Reading some of the above comments defending TDM, I’m sufficiently intrigued by the narrative to consider a second visit, but the first time was all about my own experience. Are we so over- stimulated and lacking in curiosity these days that we can’t have fun playing on our own? And come on: what a playground! Jx

    http://cocktailsandcountrytales.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/the-drowned-man/

  25. Made the mistake of buying the premium ticket and going with an open mind, premium ticket gives you nothing different from the standard ticket other than queueing at a different door to start, and apparently a special area at the bar. However, the actors seemed to be so detached from the audience we were shown out the ‘special exit for premium ticket holders’ before we even had a chance to see the bar. The sets are fantastic, the actors are enthusiastic, but the direction is so poor as to be amateurish – you are left wondering how much better this could be with a change of production. Why are there no leaflets showing where the toilets or water is located? It’s hot and tiring to walk for 3 hours, and very easy not to care about the story and just try and find somewhere to sit down to rest. Very disappointing as a first time visitor to a Punchdrunk production – save your money; book a tour of any film set and ask some friends to act strange and perform a random dance at the end.

  26. So many people complaining about this… not sure what you do in your lives normally, but it must be exciting if this production is so offensive to you.

    A wonderful experience… and I guess you get out of it what you put in. The fact that some people think there was only 2 or 3 levels just shows the lack of effort that they have put in.

    • You seem to take other people’s disappointment personally and I can’t understand why. After all, you had a wonderful experience and they didn’t. Blaming the audience is an emotional and rather defensive reaction. Unless you are Punchdrunk, why would you care that way?

    • a friend of mine only saw 2 levels not through a ‘lack of effort’ but because he was so engrossed in those levels that he didn’t realise there were any others.
      All in all, this is a must-see production and worth every penny.

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