The Drowned Man - unique and absorbing
[This blog was originally posted on andrewmarklynch.blogspot.com]
I'm following a derelict and drunken former star kicked out of a faded dive bar. He's fallen down dead-drunk, comatose next to a graffitti-ed wall and a burnt-out car. Shortly, he's picked up and gently escorted away by the studio's patrolling security guard. The guard takes him back to his office, and dresses him in a luxuriant white tuxedo - "Welcome back, Harry, it's been too long. Great to have you back. They need you in studio 3." I follow the suited and sober Harry through a maze of corridors, a 1960's-era movie studio giving way to crowded bar filled with raucous jazz. He strides into the room purposefully, taking the stage commandingly. Maskless and blended into the crowd, I overhear the MC's comment - "It's almost like a dream, Harry." as Harry launches into an old 50's standard onstage.
I went to The Drowned Man last night. This is one of many incredible and rare immersive experiences I had. It is only peripherally related to the main story, a dual narrative of two spurned lovers told with the stunning physicality of the actors, through phenomenal dance performances and minimal dialogue. Harry's dream is another absorbing diversion, an extension of the world of this story.
This is theatre, but flying in the face of any idea I've ever had of it. Instead of simply 'watching' - a performance removed and isolated on a stage - we take part, and the story surrounds us.
We don masks as we enter the labyrinthine 5-storey set, hiding our expressions and keeping us silent. We are simultaneously anonymous, voyeurs, and background to the performances. The set is immense, seemingly endless. I spend the first hour mostly just exploring, eschewing the narrative that gathers crowds of masked observers. I rifle through forgotten love letters in an abandoned desk, feeling like a detective looking for clues. I spend vast swathes of time alone, exploring an abandoned chapel, a sandy nuclear wasteland, and a funeral scene populated by silent scarecrows.
Someway through my world-exploring, I stumble across Harry. From there, I spend my time following a range of characters, through a range of landscapes and plots. I find a bloody and beaten woman in the back seat of a car, stumble into a 1950's teen musical, and witness a violent and brutally choreographed dance number. The story is brilliantly simple, and allows freedom to flit between characters, plots and random experiences with ease. I have so many unanswered questions, from characters whom I lost along the way, snatching only a beginning, or a middle, as I lose them in the vast maze of Temple Studios. This incompleteness is not frustrating, but instead adds to the mystery and the sense of scale.
For anyone with a love of story, an appreciation of dance, or a curiosity to witness something truly unique- this is essential. I will be returning soon, to explore and discover, and to be drawn into a world of powerful performances, intricate detail and completely immersive wonder. This is art in it's greatest form, boldly pushing against convention, re-defining expectations, and challenging our view of the world. Unmissable.