Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable

Punchdrunk The Drowned Man

There are times in my life when I ask myself questions like: What am I doing hanging around an old warehouse beside Paddington Station on a Friday night?

I'm waiting patiently in a queue with many others to be admitted to a new play by Punchdrunk, the theatre company extraordinaire, of course.

And there is the answer, too, that the company really are extraordinary. Amazing, totally bewitching, and bewildering. Going to their performances leaves you speechless, punch-drunk, or maybe in need of a stiff drink and a good chat.

So what's it all about? The simple outline of a story is given to you when you finally enter 'Temple Studios', a recreation of a Hollywood studio, an enormous, cavernous spaces under the earth that Punchrunk (in a superb collaboration with the National Theater) have opened to your gaze.

The story based on Buechner’s fragment Woyzeck seems simple on paper, tragic but straightforward. But as it unfolds in those many rooms (bring your most comfy shoes), your sense of awe and joyous anticipation expand by the minute. Your astonishment becomes that of a child again with so many different senses being played with by the company. You're sometimes assaulted, sometimes pounding music guides you, sometimes it misleads you in those enormous sets, and your orientation becomes unstable. Darkness disorients, so if you're afraid of the dark, don’t go! (Or maybe do, and find out what happens when you face your fears.)

Alice in Wonderland has nothing on this. Meet the world of Miss Havisham crossed with the Russsian plays by Peter Stein; decadent and velvety but faded with sumptuousness and birch tree woods; icy, foggy alpine scenes; and studios for prosthesis mystery and beauty. Lush luxury and abject trailer trash. The story is not that important here; the sense of wondermentand childlike joy is.

So if you happen to drop in on a sort of orgy in the making, you can figure out what you truly feel when those gorgeous actors do their thing, and enjoy or recoil, just as when a square-dance full of buoyant energy suddenly tips over into a vicious fight. All of life seems to be here, and this amazing company lets you see it in the space of three action-and-thought-filled hours.

If you always wanted to live a fuller life, this is the best ticket in town.