★★★★

Pioneering immersive theatre company, Punchdrunk, have taken over an expansive former Royal Mail sorting office in Paddington, London and transformed it into mystical and dreamy Hollywood studio – Temple Pictures – in the dark, and at times, twisted fantasy tale – The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable.

Fernanda Prata, Jesse Kovarsky. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0399)

Following in the footsteps of immersive protagonists You Me Bum Bum Train, who turned a sorting office into their own theatrical wonderland in 2011, directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle (in partnership with the National Theatre) bring their most audacious performance to date to life in a seedy tale of 1960s LA.

Punchdrunk The Drowned Man

The Drowned Man is an adaptation of a series of unfinished work from George Buchner’s Woyzeck – a tale of paranoia, jealousy, exploitation and, eventually murder.

Sam Booth & Conor Doyle. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf  (0166)

The glorious staging and design, set amongst four floors saw an elaborate tale told by accomplished performers, that, despite the lack of dialogue, saw a series of choreographed dance providing viewers with two stories – one win a male lead and one with a female lead (the first time Punchdrunk has had two leads) – told simultaneously to brilliant effect.

Vinicius Salles. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0290)

With so many scenes being told at once, the crowd desperately try to find their route, with the majority of the audience deciding it is best to follow a character. However, the beauty of Punchdrunk is by being curious, exploring and disabling the innate feeling that you are going to miss out, to explore the various rooms which seemingly empty help to pave the story for those eager to find out more.

Vinicius Salles. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0300)

For the intrepid audience, manuscripts, doctor’s notes and trailers provided key supplementary information to truly immerse them into the deep, dark work behind all of Hollywood’s glamour.

Oliver Hornsby-Sayer. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0384)

The ending is told via a small synopsis handed on entry, with one storyline ending with William murdering Mary, while in the other, the ‘push past everyone to succeed’ Wendy puts pay to Marshall’s life.

Kate Jackson & Oliver Hornsby-Sayer. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0216)

The result of a three hours promenade performance is a large all out raucous barnstorming hoe down where the final scene is acted, or rather once again, danced into a climatic, foot stomping ending.

Conor Doyle, Ed Warner, Omar Gordon, Tomislav English & Vinicius Salles. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0578)

The Drowned Man provides the audience with drama, deceit, death and a lot of dance… perhaps the lack of dialogue will lead theatre impresarios to lament the lack of connection to the characters; but this is drama for a non-dress circle audience and the overriding feeling at the bar  after the performance was of WOW. What more could Barrett and Doyle ask for?

Omar Gordon. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0097)

Sonya Cullingford. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0232)

Fernanda Prata, Jesse Kovarsky. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0399)

The Drowned Man is on now until 31 December for tickets visit here.

Images courtesy of Birgit & Ralf