The Drowned Man | Punchdrunk

20th June, 2013 - Ongoing | 'Temple Studios' 31 London Street

Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man builds on the company’s reputation for brilliantly detailed large scale installation / site-intervention performances. The installation work is incredible, and worth seeing regardless of what the performers do with it.

The audience are given masks and immersed in a movie studio world of almost-American performers, fulfilling the expected tropes of the genre. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and one that most of the audience seems accustomed to, rushing around after the performers, the more Punchdrunk-savvy crowding around and taking every opportunity to attempt to interact with them. This begins to grate after a while, and I found it a more rewarding experience to give up on trying to follow the performers (or the plot such as there is), and explore the installation work away from the crowds.

I will say that the audience manipulation is very well executed, leaving a feeling of freedom intact, while subtly broadcasting the locations of action or interest through the use of omnipresent sound design. I would find myself heading in a particular direction without quite realising why, guided by sound location. Sometimes this is very unsubtle, but it works extremely well.

With such an impressive design, it is a shame that the narrative content and performances are largely disappointing. There are dance numbers, cliches and characters that would not be out of place in a mainstream musical. It’ same winning formula to popularise Punchdrunk’s form, but it fails to exploit the potential of the innovative form to actually say something new.

About Ivor Houlker

Ivor runs Rooftop Productions in Hong Kong, a theatre company known for multidisciplinary contemporary work. He trained as an actor at Rose Bruford College, and completed his MA in performance at Goldsmiths College, London.

One thought on “The Drowned Man | Punchdrunk”

  1. Having the audience wearing masks surely isolates them from any real interaction, Instead the viewer’s experience is drawn through the key-hole eye slits like a voyeur. What better tool to create a barrier between audience and performer!

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