The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable

A week ago I answered my phone to a very excited Godmother.  She had read Charles Spencer’s review in the Telegraph of a new ‘show’ called The Drowned Man.  One of the reasons she stated she was excited was that Charles Spencer rarely rates a play with five stars or is so exuberant in his praise.  After attempting to tell me about the show – ‘it’s immersive theatre’, ‘story in a Hollywood studio’, ‘you wander through the story’, ‘there’s murder and intrigue’ etc etc, I thought better of trying to understand it and said we should go.

We did.  Yesterday evening.IMG_3947

My review however will read somewhat differently to that of Mr Spencer.  We arrived punctually at 5pm and were handed a white plastic ghost mask which we were told to wear throughout our ‘experience’.  As the weather was warm and close, soon I would feel sweat dripping down the inside of my mask – nice!

I led the way into the venue (the old GPO building at Paddington).  With every step forward the light got dimmer and the black walls more imposing.  The music grew louder – although perhaps we should call it noise.  Within seconds I felt my Godmother reach for my hand.  It was more than a little unnerving not being able to see and to choose to walk forward into the darkness, unsure of what was next.

After being herded into a lift and then deposited on another floor, we spend the next 3 hours wandering round semi-lit floors.  There were Western bars, old caravans, cars, wig and prosthetic rooms, a bath with a naked man in it, deserts, fountains, dressing rooms and so much more.  Some of the sets were filled with suitable smells ie antiseptic in the medical room, oil around the car, stale cigarettes in bars etc.  Certainly the set design team must be given huge credit for their work.

Short vignettes played out over the four floors of sets or studios.  The background noises were so loud we were unable to hear any of the spoken word from the actors and we wondered if there was a story to the ‘show’ at all?  We saw a murder, we saw rows and fights, we saw a birthday party and jealous rages, we saw line dancing and love, we heard laughter and screaming and we saw nudity and sexuality. We felt at times voyeuristic and at other times like it was purely for the hype.  We followed noise or light.  We followed actors between sets.  We also saw other spectators read scripts, notes, letters, posters, ‘clues’ throughout the four floors and disappointingly we saw spectators pocket items from the sets or examine contents of prop purses a little too closely!

It was interesting.  I’m pleased to have done it.  It was quirky and perhaps it will become, as Charles Spencer says, a ‘cult hit’ but I’m not really sure why it should.

I wouldn’t go again nor would I recommend it to others.  I felt the ticket price, at £47.50, was too much and the information too little about what to expect.

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