The Drowned Man, Temple Studios

Amidst the fading glamour of 1960s Los Angeles, stands Temple Studios – a crumbling monument to the golden age of film, seducing wide-eyed dreamers with the promise of wealth and fame. Here, movie stars mingle with hungry young upstarts, while beyond the gates lies a forgotten hinterland where the many rejected by the studio system scratch out a living. Inspired by Georg Büchner’s fractured masterpiece Woyzeck, The Drowned Man explores the darkness of the Hollywood dream. Celluloid fantasy meets desperate reality, and certainty dissolves into a hallucinatory world.

The Drowned Man is theatre like you’ve never seen it before. Brought to you by Punchdrunk who specialise in immersive theatre, every performance is one of a kind.  There are two separate storylines which are basically a mirror of each other, due to being separated from my friend Connie who I went with, I ended up submerged in the William & Mary story while she encountered the glitz and glamour of Wendy & Marshall.

William & Mary – William and Mary struggle to make ends meet outside the gates of a film studio. 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.

Wendy & Marshall – Wendy and Marshall struggle to make ends meet inside the gates of a film studio. 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.

Having encountered Punchdrunk before when they staged The Crash of the Elysium interactive Doctor Who show in Ipswich back in 2012 I had a vague idea of what to expect but that show didn’t impress me nearly as half as much as The Drowned Man. Whereas during Crash you were led on the adventure, with TDM you are left to explore at your leisure. Your experience will be completely different from your companions as you make your own decisions about where to go and which characters to follow. And with 32 characters to choose from as well as over 200 incredibly detailed rooms there is so much to soak in I don’t think even the most seasoned attendees could capture it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t love it right from the beginning, it took a good 30 minutes or so for me to actually get an idea of what the heck was going on as everyone I seemed to follow ended up dragging an audience member into a room for an elusive one to one. I also struggled with the fact that there was very little dialogue as it was hard to figure out who was who and figure out where in the storyline I was. In fact for the first part of the performance I followed Faye who pretty much had nothing at all to do with the main story but was fascinating nonetheless. The story loops three times and I was gutted to discover additional floors of the building just as the third loop ended. The show left me screaming for more.

It seems to be one of those things that you either love or hate. For me it’s the former and I’ve already booked to go back again this Wednesday. The only negative thing about the show in my opinion is the cost of the tickets as they are quite expensive but given the scale of the show I fully understand the costs behind each performance. It’s also nice that there is a discount code available for those that have been before which is a cool little loyalty bonus. Sadly the show closes on July 6th so if you want to get tickets be quick!

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