I have recorded here every detail that I can remember from Punchdrunk's excellent interactive theatre production, The Drowned Man. This page is one big SPOILER, and is intended mainly for my own use so that I can remember the wonderful night and the things I saw. For more photos of this event, click HERE.
Before the show, we are all handed a two-sided, black and white card:
|The Drowned Man||The Drowned Man|
|Outside the Gates of a film studio William & Mary struggle to make ends meet. When Mary meets Dwayne, a drugstore cowboy. They strike up an affair and William's fragile world starts to fall apart. William confronts Mary about the infidelity, but she denies everything. As William's paranoia becomes uncontrollable, he goes to a party and in horror witnesses Mary and Dwayne's affair first-hand. William's state of delusion and panic accelerates until he leads Mary into the wilderness and murders her.||Outside the Gates of a film studio Wendy & Marshall struggle to make ends meet. When Marshall meets Dolores, the studio Diva, they strike up an affair and Wendy's fragile world starts to fall apart. Wendy confronts marshall about the infidelity, but he denies everything. As Wendy's paranoia becomes uncontrollable, she goes to a party and in horror witnesses Marshall and Dolores' affair first-hand. Wendy's state of delusion and panic accelerates until she leads Marshall into the wilderness and murders him.|
|When the doors open at 5.00, a group of us are given Venetian
bauta masks and instructed to wear them all the time; do not take them
off. We are ushered into a lift, which descends into the depths of the
"studio". The attendant, dressed in 1960s uniform, welcomes us to
Temple Studios and instructs not to stray from the path. Doing so would be
dangerous. The lift opens and I step out with two others, before the door slams
shut behind us, cutting us off from the rest of our friends.
I move the opposite direction from the other two, into a cramped office filled with vintage stationery and desk equipment: fans, an ink blotter, pens, a calendar. There are glossy, black and white photos on the walls, images of the stars of Temple Studios. I search through the pockets of an overcoat that hangs on the wall and find a diary with entries pertaining to shooting schedule. Around the corner, a small shrine is set up, like the roadside Madonnas seen throughout Europe. The crucifix is adorned with a chain of paper roses. My mask is hot and uncomfortable so I lift it but am silently instructed to put it back by one of the attendants who lurk in every corner.
A large space with chequerboard floor. In pools of light lay bodies, not real, but unsettling all the same.
|I enter a bedroom to witness the end of an argument/dance between a glamorous woman and her athletic suitor, who writhes on a chaise longue and looks remorseful as the woman (Wendy? Dolores?) retreats behind a curtain. The room empties and the/a woman sits at a large, cluttered dressing room table, the kind found in theatres backstage. A clown enters and replaces her at the dressing table, sitting next to me and wiping white makeup from his face. I follow him onto a soundstage and watched him struggle his way to the top of a mound of snow. His efforts are fruitless and he scrambles and rolls to the bottom. He ousts me from the canvas director's chair where I am sitting and performs languid stretching moves, admiring his own legs as they scissor high about his head.|
|A shirtless man (Marshall?) stalks through the space and I follow him - of course! - to a deserted caravan park, the ground littered with bark, tree trunks thrusting up through the ground. He performs a wild, athletic dance, spinning like a dervish, throwing wood chips and sweat in the direction of the masked audience. He climbs a barren hill and meets a woman (Wendy?) at the top. They embrace, but we see that she holds a pair of scissors, gleaming in the artificial moonlight. She stabs him and cradles his body as they descend into darkness.|
throughout the evening. I see them arranged on a kitchen surface, blood on
steel, and then in a child's bedroom. There are vintage record sleeves and
movie posters on the bedroom wall and every doll and stuffed animal has been
blinded, eyes sewn shut with big, childish stitches. I hear that there are
collections of scissors lined up in a block in a room I never find.
I move up a floor, passing through the majestic gates of temple studios, large stone lions standing at either side of the entry way. There is an office with an industrious female agent speaking into an old-fashioned phone. A photo of the man killed with scissors hangs on the wall behind her. Another man in a fedora enters and they have a discussion - one of the few that occurs throughout the evening. The victim's photo is torn off the wall.
I explore the huge space, slipping through a fence through ghostly rows of laundry hanging out to dry. Moving past some woods, I come to a circle of caravans where a woman cries and drinks from a bottle of whiskey. She flirts with men in the cast who wear checked shirts, jeans, and cowboy hats, as well as men selected from the audience. One of these spectators follows her into the caravan and the door is slammed shut and locked. A cast member drops card onto the ground after his encounter with the forlorn woman. I pick it up and find that it is a tarot card: The Deceiver.
Two men move off together into the woods. They argue, about what? The woman with the bottle? Their argument develops into a dance and they use the naked trunks of the birch trees, notches carved for their boots, to swing their action high above our heads. Off to the side, I slip through corrugated metal into a darkened room filled with crucifixes and paper rose chains as before. Around the corner from this is a metal bath, filled with a silent pool of water. At this point, I do not see the cross over the entrance. I move on.
|Through the next space is an empty saloon and bar, lit with a flickering neon sign. A bartender wipes the surface of the bar with slow, purposeful motions. He climbs onto the bar and stamps a slow rhythm with his cowboy boots. This evolves into a gymnastic dance with him swinging from an overhead bar.|
|I move into a
general store where a lone cowboy (Dwayne?), wearing a plaid shirt and
waistcoat, stands sweeping the floor. I slip behind him and inspect the shirts
for sale, which are lined up neatly on the wooden counter. Not much happens in
this room, but the cowboy intrigues me and I will return to him later to
experience an intimate one-to-one encounter that I will never forget.
The next floor up is more spacious very dark. The first sight is arresting: a small chapel sits in the clearing with rows of wooden chairs facing it. In all but one of these chairs sit figures, dressed identically in black. They are like scarecrows, or mannequins, silently watching the chapel. I sit in the empty chair, among the scarecrows, uneasily expecting one of them to spring to life. They remain still and motionless, so I rise and cross to an area that was once fenced off with signs warning NO ENTRY. The fence has been cut and crosses mark graves at the foot of the wire mesh. Around the periphery of this space are rooms: an office whose drawers, books, and folders could occupy the curious for hours, a locker room with personal effects still littering the metal shelves of the lockers. There is no activity in these rooms apart from us silent spectators in our Venetian masks. I move on.
There is a doll-sized tent, filled with magical talismans and an old mattress on the ground. This is where the young dancer's body will be placed after a scene that has not yet taken place, at least for my eyes. There is also a cramped chapel, with rows of pews and religious icons.
|The black, crow-like figure of an old woman hobbles through the darkened space, followed by a group of masked spectators. She climbs a mound of sand in which is half-buried a neon sign for the RED MOON HOTEL. There is a young couple who appear, embrace, and argue. They move swiftly away and I follow them. Another shirtless man dances frenetically, like the dervish I observed before, in the dirt behind the row of scarecrows. He collapses and his body is carried to the small chapel and set gently upon a bier or altar, which is covered with moss and flowers. Another tarot card is placed upon his chest: DEATH.|
|Back downstairs, I
explore further. I think that I have seen everything there is to see, so I
spend more time concentrating on details. When the evening is over, I begin to
suspect that I have missed out on an entire floor, but what I have yet to
discover is enough to fill my remaining time. There is a movie theatre with
plush seats and velvet curtains. I have just missed the film and sit for a
while with one other masked figure who sits stoically behind me, before
leaving. In the box office, I flick through a notepad containing lists written
in girlish script: My Top Ten Heart-throbs - Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Rock
Hudson (dreamy). I enter the workspace of a Temple Studios wardrobe mistress
and follow her through a labyrinth of clothes rails into a tiny, cramped
office. She labours for a while at her needle, oblivious to my sole presence,
when a man enters and strikes up a conversation with her. It seems that nothing
much will happen here, so I leave, but in retrospect, I think if I had stayed
longer, I would have experienced one of those intimate one-to-one encounters.
Next time I will know better.
The town square is inhabited by a down-and-out man carrying a placard. There are hotel rooms along one side of the street. Through one window, I can see two men playing cards. I try the door but it is locked. I look through the contents of a businessman's suitcase in the next room. In the third room, a forlorn looking man wearing women's silk stockings sits upon his bed, surrounded by masked spectators. He pulls on his men's trousers and reaches for a small bottle, from which he unscrews a pipette and administers several drops onto his parched tongue. His eyes lock with a woman in the room - one of the audience - and he approaches her and holds her chin. He pulls up her mask and she willingly opens her mouth for him to administer drops from the glass bottle. It is a sign of how engrossing this drama is that such a thing can transpire between two total strangers. I move on.
|A couple sit on the porch swing of a little wooden house - William and Mary. They argue and he notices the diamond bracelet (a gift from Dwayne) which she tries to hide by placing it on the railing right next to where I stand. The argument becomes dance and they both use the swing and the posts of the house to aid their choreography. The man storms away and the woman moves sadly into the house. The audience follows; I climb through the window. It is difficult to see what she is doing, so I inspect items in the house looking for clues. There are crocheted blankets, gloves, a small radio, a side table. I pick up a post card and there is a personal message to Mary from William, who asks about their mutual friend Dwayne.|
|Aggressive dances such as theirs take place in multiple locations throughout the evening. A man and woman struggle in each other's arms on top of an old abandoned car, as though failed by Lover's Leap. There is a rowdy hoedown back in the bar, which I watch from outside, through a screened window. A couple escapes from the dance for a clandestine meeting outside the bar. They stand up against my same window, close enough that I have to move away to give them room, and their kisses soon progress to what looks like a rough sexual attack from the man. The man withdraws, leaving the woman on her own, destroyed. Those who follow her into the woods observe her anguished dance among the familiar birch trees with their notched footholds. She removes her clothes down to a slip and stands at the corrugated metal entrance of the rooms containing crucifixes and the silent bath. A huge cross is illuminated from behind and the woman stands silhouetted in its light.|
|I move away from the group and spy the brooding cowboy from before, with his plaid shirt, waistcoat, and cowboy hat. I follow him to his trailer and he looks furtively around before beckoning me inside, closing and locking the door behind me. He gestures for me to sit down on the little padded caravan bench and he removes my mask, setting it on the bench behind him. He pours us both a small glass of whiskey (real, but watered-down), which we drink in silence. He pours another one before blindfolding me with a soft length of material. His face is close to mine and I can feel his breath upon my mouth. He takes my hand and leads me to the far end of the trailer, which opens up to a space of unknown size, the ground covered in sand. He leads and I follow, all the time wondering what will become of my mask. He positions me underneath a blazing hot light and whispers into my ear about being taken to the mouth of hell. Next, I feel his fingers, now icy cold, at my throat and he whispers reassuringly about being delivered into the cool of redemption (or something like that - I was distracted) before removing my blindfold, handing back my mask, and disappearing into the dusty darkness.|
|Later, when I get
home, I read that intimate moments such as these are highly coveted by those
who know Punchdrunk's work. I can see why!
I wander more, moving from floor to floor, catching up with Nick for a while and them losing him again. I move down to the floor where I started and find a chequerboard stage, which I climb, but it is empty and dark. I can see through a two-way mirror that I am behind one of the sets that I saw earlier and I start to explore, when I am directed by a masked usher to make my way downstairs. As I descend, one of the shirtless cowboys races past me, and I follow him to a huge space, surrounded by the entire masked audience. The cast, familiar figures by now, are on the stage and commence a syncronised dance that the audience applauds. Standing where I am at the edge of the stage, I am jostled aside by a woman in an emerald green dress, carrying a pair of bloody scissors. She trudges onto stage and takes her place among the others in the cast. Does she end up alone on stage with the man she killed? I can't remember. It's all a blur.
|When we talked about it afterwards, Rus and Nick had experienced completely different things from what I saw. Apparently, I missed most of the Wendy and Marshall scenario and never saw the man who danced, completely naked. I would say that the evening was unforgettable, but much of the exquisite detail has already slipped from my memory. I suppose that is the magic of live theatre.|
After seeing The Drowned Man the first time, we quickly realised that we'd only experienced only a fraction of the dreamscape world created by Punchdrunk, so we booked to see the show again in October.
|We were the first out of the lift, and on Nick's advice, I headed straight to the top floor, which was deserted apart from me and two shirtless men who were wrestling in the sand. I watched them share a drink, then flirt with a woman in a flower print dress, which clearly upset one of the men, who stormed away, too fast for me to pursue. Soon, I spied the Dust Witch, who held out her hand and led me to a secret room for a coveted "1:1" session. Like the one I had with Dwayne in July, this was a terribly intimate experience that involved her lightly trailing her fingers up my arm, whispering into my ear about a girl who had a dream about the Sandman, putting sand into my closed fists, blindfolding me and running me back and forth to disorient me, then leading me to a bright, hot light before pushing me back out into the sandy darkness.|
|The rest of the evening I
concentrated mainly on the goings-on in the basement, often following an
Executive, who had a bit of a thing for a Hollywood hunk. There was an audition
scene with the hunk in a locker room with two other executives, before his big
initiation ceremony/orgy, in the black and white chequerboard space. I missed
the nudity last time, but made up for it this time. I can only imagine what the
audition requirements are for some of the men in this cast. Drugged wine,
baseball bats, and simulations later, the somewhat disturbing scene was over.
The executive did a dance on a long wooden table that ended with him mooning over photos of the Hollywood hunk. He stared at me and handed me a photo of the hunk before dashing off to another room.
|I followed an actor back to the top floor and saw a passionate dance between Miguel and a woman (Romola?) before encountering the Dust Witch again. After she washed the black paint off her hands, leftover from smearing it onto Miguel's bare torso, she reached out for me to follow her, presumably for the same 1:1 experience I'd had earlier. I didn't want to be greedy, so I spotted a newbie woman and told her to follow the Witch. She was reluctant, but I finally persuaded her to follow and sure enough, she was taken into the secret room, locking the woman's friends outside.|
|A highlight of the evening must have been seeing Oliver Hornsby-Sayer as Dwayne, in his little white briefs, performing his anguished sand dance. As the dance progressed, the briefs came off, landing in a shadowy corner of the room.|
|I found this second visit to The Drowned Man more satisfying, and not just because of the nudity. I spent more time watching the actors and less time snooping around in drawers and cupboards. It was a very different show. I did a bit of Fool-following, saw some of the creepy Doctor in his rather perverse examination room, watched a bit of "film" directed by the disembodied voice of Sandford. The final stabbing scene was very intense and the whole cast dance on stage was energetic and exciting. I didn't remember the murderess cradling the body of her victim in the rain. But then again, there's so much to remember .|
Summer fun with Rus 2013
Autumn fun 2013