The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable ★★★½

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable ★★★½

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable | Temple Studios, Paddington | Until 30 December | £39.50 – £47.50


In amongst a chaotic week at To Do List HQ last week, we managed to catch a ‘performance’ of Punchdrunk’s latest spectacular, The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable – and finally, we’ve put our thoughts together for your delectation…

They Say: “Step into the world of Temple Pictures where the Hollywood studio system meets a forgotten hinterland filled with dreamers who exist at the fringes of the movie industry. Here, celluloid fantasy clings to desperate realism and certainty dissolves into a hallucinatory world.

Inspired by Büchner’s fractured masterpiece Woyzeck, this theatrical journey follows its protagonists along the precipice between illusion and reality.”

We Say: Go, but go prepared.

Firstly, you’ll need money. This particular spectacle doesn’t come cheap, with most tickets £47.50. Secondly, you’ll need to read the source material, Buchner’s Woyzeck, because otherwise you’ll most likely struggle to fully comprehend the various strands which gradually come together throughout.

If you’ve managed (and afforded) to buy a ticket, and have boned up (shush children) on  the reading, you’ll be well set to enjoy a few hours the like of which you possibly won’t ever have experienced before in the name of theatre. The scale is truly awesome – Punchdrunk have converted a huge disused Paddington warehouse into a mind-boggling series of small, intimately detailed spaces and large, open landscapes.

You might feel like you truly are on the set of a film, or perhaps that you have been transported into a beautifully realised computer game. You can touch and feel, you can sit, walk, climb, crawl or even run. Just don’t talk. Or take off your mask. You’ll see.

We’ll be honest – for us, the story itself got (more than) a bit lost, and as we left, we felt that perhaps style had triumphed over substance. The fact that, for the most part, the ‘characters’ don’t speak doesn’t help things. Also, you might feel torn between random wandering and exploring, and sticking slavishly with the un-masked performers to try to grasp what it’s all about. Of course, it’s up to each individual to find their own balance, but it means that it’s hard to shake off the fear that you might be (and probable are) missing lots of stuff.

One little moan: the bar. Lots of immersive theatre experiences, Drowned Man included, now include a bar-based element. Now admittedly, in this case you can stay in the bar for as long as you like – 30 seconds, 30 minutes, it’s your call. But you are something of a captive audience, and given that tickets aren’t exactly cheap, we really think that one of these productions should bite the generosity-bullet and give everyone at least a free drink token for when they reach the bar.

So, to conclude: We liked it – the design, logistics, and sheer scale are really incredible – but we couldn’t love it. The story felt secondary, and the climax felt disconnected. We recommend it to anyone with a spare £50 and an adventurous spirit – but seriously, make sure you know your Woyzeck first!