Sophie Bortolussi (Wendy)

PunchDrunk Returns in a Paddington Warehouse With The Drowned Man

As written for Londonist

Something’s not quite right at Temple Studios, this much is known. If you can play along with that limited bit of information, Punchdrunk’s latest mind-bending, maze-wandering thrill-of-a-production The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable will be a treat. But be warned – for those not up for haplessly making your way around a makeshift film house for three hours not having much of a clue what you’re watching, this is not for you.

Located around the corner from St Mary’s Hospital, one might be confused whether all the pomp is for the show-stopping royal baby madness or for the large-scale production space supporting one of Punchdrunk’s biggest spectacles to date. The queue to enter snakes around turnstiles replicating a roller coaster ride at Disney World. To detract from the wait (and the blistering heat), a piece of paper is provided giving a summary of two stories, each with a love triangle and a dark twist.

For regular Punchdrunk attendees, it’s known that the stories unfold in a random manner, depending on which door you open, which character you spy on and maybe even which room you’re forced into. In this case, it’s a barrage of 1950s/ early 60s quirky film sets, backstage rooms holding one too many wigs and surrounding offices for the executives and medical team. Sound typical? Not when you stumble upon scenes like a doctor oddly addressing a patient’s naked body or a security guard aggressively pulling bodies off the chained fence that divides the studio from the outside world.

The creepy gets creepier when the journey through the ominous passages often steers people in different directions, leaving you with say, the doctor and your own personal check-up. But not to worry, getting lost can also lead you to a party where you and the actors celebrate another day of shooting or a cabaret club to which you’re eyed over by a young thespian.

While it may not be Punchdrunk’s best show, in part because of the grand size of both the space and the cast, it’s still impressive nonetheless. Just don’t worry about making sense of things – enjoy the smaller moments such as the detail to the doctor’s reports hanging on the walls to the bigger ones including the finale boasting impressive dancing and acting from the entire cast.

Like previous shows including Faust and The Masque of the Red Death the storyline options are endless, making one think a second viewing is necessary. A read-up on Büchner’s fractured masterpiece Woyzeck may help, as directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle chose the dehumanising play as the basis of this aphotic staging.

Just remember to always wear your mask, otherwise you’ll be left behind from the rest of the audience, and things really could get freaky…

Performances are booking until 30 December. Start times are Tuesday-Thursday 10pm, Friday/Saturday 8pm and 12 midnight, Sunday 8pm with six arrival times for each performance in 10 minute intervals. Show lasts up to three hours so make sure to wear comfortable footwear. Tickets: from £47.50 / £19.50. For more information and to book see the National Theatre website.