Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Drowned Man (by Punch Drunk) - the night when we become faceless

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"Go alone," a friend told me. I took her advice and bought a lone ticket. She enjoyed it thoroughly the first time round and was thinking of going again just so that she can see the rest of the plot (more about that later). Why not? Sounds interesting, isn't it? It turns out to be more so.

The ticket says London Street. Google Map points to a building (Temple Studios) along London Street. I thought that the entrance would be difficult to find. Not so - a small crowd of people have gathered outside an unmarked gate with a lone security personnel. "Not yet," he reply wearily, presumably for the umpteenth time when I wave the ticket in his face. Moments later, he pull the gate open and I am on my way in.

Punch Drunk vs Secret Cinema

The Drowned Man, a Punch Drunk production, is an open end theatre act. It takes place in a multi-storey seemingly disused building just beside Paddington Train Station. Sounds like Secret Cinema? Far from it. While Secret Cinema productions require us to actively participate in it, The Drowned Man demands that we be silent throughout. Not a single word. This is perhaps the only place in the whole of London where I can step on a person's shoes, ignore him yet get away with that. None of those incessant apologies. That itself is a thrill.

There is no movie screened at the end either. The show performed by live actors is running right from the start. Each of us gets a mask and is told to put it on, never to remove it until the very end. We get to wonder through the dimly lit interconnecting corridors linking large "studios". No expenses is spared when it comes to props. Every single room is immaculately decorated. I feel like I am stepping into a different world, totally immersing in the murder plot that is about to unfold.

Why having a mask matters

Having a mask is a master stroke and that makes the whole difference. The whole point of donning a mask, a full face one at that, is all about anonymity. Or at least the perception of it. You would like to think that no one knows it you; people start to do staff bordering on creepy. Some went right up to the actors and begin reading the letters on their hands, other rummage through the props looking for titillating titbits providing colour to the storyline. Some stood right next to the actors staring unbashfullly during costume changing scenes - reservations cast aside. With a mask on, you can be anybody. Or nobody.

What to expect

Credit given to the actors, who despite all the prowling eyes and bodies, still manage to maneuver through the crowds and perform their acts without so much of a hitch. It takes almost military precision to time each act such that they come together at certain intervals from different parts of the building interspersed over several floors.

As the beautifully choreographed plot gradually thickens with carefully orchestrated music, I notice that the size of the audience increase noticeably. You see, the price of your ticket determines the time you enter the theatre grounds. The top priced ticket (only a handful of those) allows you to get in way ahead of the crowd, be able to explore the whole grounds and watch the play without having to jostle with the rest. It is almost like a private performance.

If you have to know, there is a bar, which opens up towards the end of the evening. Even then, it isn't easy to find. Tastefully setup, there is a small band (in the theme of the play) with actors walking across the floor mingling with the crowd.

Read before you go

I don't realise how tired the whole experience can be until much later. Time flies (three hours give or take) when you are running up and down the stairways following the actors in a bid to find out what is happening next. A word of advice: this is something that you can go alone. In fact, it would be much better if you are alone so that you can wonder through the set freely. Ditch your glasses and opt for contact lens instead. That makes wearing the mask much more pleasant. Wear comfortable sneakers for there will be lots of brisk walking.

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