Last night I danced alone with a strange man in a pitch black room wearing a white mask.
I also saw a frenzied murder in a freezing forest and a sordid affair take place on a velvet-draped four-poster bed.
All in the space of 3 hours. All in a huge building opposite Paddington train station. And all for the sake of ‘Punch Drunk: The Drowned Man’, an interactive theatre experience.
Before going I’d heard it was great, but had next to no idea what it was all about.
I still have next to no idea.
Turning up at the venue at 9pm I quickly took off my heels and slipped into pumps after being told to wear comfortable shoes. Thank god for the warning. The Boyfriend and I were then told to remain silent at all times and handed masks to put on, no doubt to add to the eerie atmosphere but also to give us all a sense of freedom afforded by anonymity.
Check out how bizarre I looked…
Then we were released into 4 ENORMOUS floors to explore as we pleased. The experience is best if you follow your own ‘journey’ so we split up and began wandering through what can only be described as the best set design and production ever: rooms full of sand, bedrooms, a bar, a Doctor’s surgery and a wood (complete with caravans) making up part of the scenery.
Watch the trailer to see what the hell I’m talking about.
Shortly, I came across pockets of activity: maskless actors acting out scenes as masked voyeurs watched on. The idea, I realised a little while in, was to follow characters you were interested in and watch as their stories unfolded. Soon I was running from room to room chasing frantic stage hands and showgirls (all in keeping with the 1960s film production theme). Music, singing, and dancing sometimes accompanied the scenes; but other times it was purely about the interaction between you and the characters (hence my utterly bizarre dancing-in-a-room experience).
Two hours in and I stumbled across The Boyfriend. Thirsty, we made our way to the bar on the middle floor, where we were allowed to take off our masks, talk, and most importantly drink Old Fashioneds while being serenaded by a band and a variety of singers, some of whom were actors we’d seen before in other scenes. Even the barmen were completely in character.
Just before midnight we were all ushered to the top floor for the final scene. It was only at this point that we realised there were probably 1000 people there, just a handful of whom we’d seen on our journeys. A dramatic finale and a thundering round of applause later and it was all over, our legs tired, our minds utterly boggled.
We left feeling a little shell-shocked, sharing our experiences of the night.
I can’t recommend Punch Drunk highly enough, you MUST go, but only if you’re open to a touch of the unusual.
Punch Drunk: The Drowned Man is on until December 30th.
Words by Jo Birch