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Review: The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable

Interested in immersive theatre? Not sure what immersive theatre is? Read this review of a tantalising (and slightly terrifying) night put on by Punchdrunk.


Entering the deserted old sorting office by Paddington station was just like entering a huge haunted house – and I’ve always hated them. To top it off, the glamorously dressed actor in the lift chucked me out on the first floor to fend for myself. I was petrified. Although I hate to admit it, I am slightly scared of the dark.

Here I was, wandering around woods, old caravans, deserts and religious shrines in the dimly lit warehouse, with hundreds of other people wearing beaked masks. Nothing strange about that. All I had to do now was follow the plot line – easier said than done…

Punchdrunk are famous for their immersive theatre, and this definitely ticked that box. The promenade style allowed the audience to wander around the four-storey building at their own ease, choosing what to watch and where to go, so that each audience member “has their own individual experience”. Personally, I think the reason Punchdrunk kept telling us to have our own experience was because you lose everyone the minute you get in there. For the whole two and a half hours I lost my family, believing they had ditched me to go to the pub. As it turns out, they had been sitting in the bar on the ground floor, having a nice drink with their masks off, listening to the 1960s band. Again, fending for myself.

Set in Temple Studios, amid a 1960s Hollywood backdrop, there are scenes of glamour and fame. For instance, Dolores in her sequinned red dress, sitting at a dressing table surrounded by countless mirrors. The pine trees were home to some beautiful pieces of movement from a selection of female actors, while the top floor was created into a desert surrounded by sand, where I saw a well-choreographed fight scene.

The movement and energy of the actors was outstanding. Co-directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, each individual movement was choreographed impeccably by Doyle. One piece which stood out for me was staged in the dressing rooms, where the fluidity of movement and the strength that the three actors possessed was very impressive to watch.

Based on the German Woyzeck by Georg Büchner, The Drowned Man reflects the dehumanising effects of Hollywood fame with recurring themes of betrayal and human jealousy. In the Wild West bar after an energetic dance sequence, Mary is seen fornicating against the window with her partner William, at which point the lighting and music changed dramatically and a fight scene followed. But despite noticing these themes in individual scenes, I failed to realise how they all linked together. The finale sequence was impressive, with the audience all gathering in the ‘woods’ for a dramatic ending, but I was very confused at this point.

I’ve always been told that good theatre must involve sex and violence and The Drowned Man certainly included both; I must add that both were extremely well done. There were definitely positives, and as my first piece of immersive theatre, it was certainly unforgettable, but I felt it was simply too unstructured. Perhaps we should have followed one particular actor’s journey throughout until they completed their loop, or we could have worked our way through each floor methodically. I thought it would all fall into place. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t. However, for those wanting a theatre trip unlike any other, Punchdrunk provide a completely new experience that I’m sure many would gush over.


The Drowned Man is showing until the end of December. Tickets available here:



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