Skip to main content

Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man

The Drowned Man by Punchdrunk
Photo by Pari.

I was nervous and excited to see Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man. It felt like everyone I knew had been at least once - all being equally excited and encouraging about it.

Entering the performance space though I was down right anxious. I'd wanted to have my own little adventure so went alone but walking through a dark corridor I felt the need to cling onto someone's arm. I worried I might have a panic attack. The space opened up and I tried to take it in. Where to look, what to explore.

A large group of people rushed past me, with what felt like real purpose and desperation. I followed them and so the adventure began.

I wasn't conscious of anxiety or even myself any more. I was completely engaged with what was happening around me. 

In the programme note Josephine Machon describes the audience's experience as 'a feeling of being submerged in a dream while remaining acutely conscious.' That's exactly right, mixed in with the control of a story-based video game: picking up a document to observe but then eavesdropping on a character's interaction.

A side effect of my medication is over sensitivity to light when tired, and lines around objects moving, and that only added to the dream-like feeling - especially as I found myself moving from semi-darkness into harshly lit stairwells, rushing after another character to see where they were going and why.

The minutiae of details within this production alongside its huge scale make this an incredible and overwhelming experience.

I was in awe of the set pieces, the physicality of the performers around it (many of whom come from a dance background), but also the acting.

Don't think that because this is an immersive, experiential production that the acting wouldn't be there as strongly as it would in a straight play. It really is. More so if anything. 

It's heightened by the proximity to, and subsequent intimacy with, the performers. As a character's lover leaves in a jealous rage alongside much of their audience, you share a vulnerable moment that feels so sincere.

You'd think having a masked audience follow you and stay close to you (often overly close) could be off-putting but it seems to intensify the feelings instead.

As the performance finished I felt this strange frustration, thinking "is that it?" - not that I was disappointed, quite the opposite, but just that there was so much I missed, so much more I could have seen. I loved the unique experience I had, but I wanted and needed more time.

Leaving Temple Studios I was in a weird state of mind. I hovered near people excitedly sharing what they'd seen. It seemed everyone had a different story. I heard about characters, set pieces or even entire floors that I hadn't experienced. That's part of it: even with many trips you'll never be able to take it all in. I waited until people dispersed and started to make my way home.

I was buzzing but equally I wanted to continue the silence. It felt odd being back in the real world. I felt the need to follow strangers, but resisted. They wouldn't be interesting enough anyway.

Perhaps out of a need to continue making choices I ate at Yo Sushi, replaying the past few hours - enjoying the flashbacks to strange images but with an aching curiosity as to what I'd missed.

I think that lingering curiosity is a big part of the experience. You can go once and live with that, but the fact that you don't have to makes a return visit very tempting.

Knowing they close on Sunday 6th July it was a bit of a now or never situation. So, I've decided to go with the now option and satisfy that curiosity by booking for next Sunday. It was just too tempting.

You should also check out my friend's brilliantly written blogpost on his Drowned Man experience.