What do we think about…

28th June 2013

… when we think about The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable?

Which is, of course, the latest immersive extravaganza from Punchdrunk, co-presented with The National Theatre (until 30 December). For background see Andrew Dickson’s feature for the Guardian. You are asked to don a mask and enter the world of the ‘legendary’ Temple Studios (just by Paddington station), which supposedly

… was established in 1942 as the British outpost for major Hollywood studio Republic Pictures. For a brief period during the 1950s it was a prolific powerhouse producing films across a variety of genres including period dramas, musicals, historical epics and intimate thrillers. In the early 1960s the output of the studio waned and employees were sworn to secrecy about the studio’s projects. Little is known about the films in development at that time. In October 1962 the studio was closed overnight. The dramatic events that led to the building being condemned have been a closely kept secret ever since.

The show is mystifying and eerie and engaging and delightful and weird and spectacular and, right at the end, a bit irritating. It is distinctive and original, and yet at the same time draws on and echoes a galaxy of influences, a list of which I began to compile as I wandered around. This is my list of 23 so far…

 L’année dernière à Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais, 1961 … Life A User’s Manual, written by Georges Perec and translated by David Bellos, published in English in 1987 … Myst, designed and directed by Robin and Rand Miller, released in 1993 … the artworks of Mike Nelson, such as Coral Reef, 2001 … the choreography of Pina Bausch … Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, published in Italy in 1972 … Le Théâtre du Soleil’s 1789, directed by Ariane Mnouchkine, first staged in 1970 …  The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges, first published in English in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1948 … Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, published in 1962 … Céline et Julie vont en bateau,directed by Jacques Rivette, 1974 …

Bomarzo, a garden designed by the Italian architect Pirro Ligorio in the sixteenth century … Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, 2010 … Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger, published in 1965 … Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, published in 1871 … Afternoon, a story by Michael Joyce, published in 1990 … Lost, a television series created by J.J. Abrams and others, 2004-2010 … Sunset Blvd., directed by Billy Wilder, 1950 … Second Life, an online virtual world developed by Linden Lab, launch in 2003 … Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anders0n, 1999 … Twin Peaks, a television serial created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, 1990-1991 …

T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste LandSt Pancras Project, a site-specific installation by Deborah Warner, 1995 … Oil City, a site specific performance by Platform, 2013 …

For reactions to the show, see:

• … a typically engaging review by West End Whingers

• … Poly Gianniba’s response at the other bridge project, with an interesting and extensive Comments thread


  1. Paul says:

    You missed an obvious one – ‘Day of the Locust’ – some of the characters are lifted directly, Faye Greener and her father, I heard her name distinctly, I also saw name plaque on an office for the screenwriter Claude Estee.

    I think it’s the best of their shows in the UK for a while and the equal of the one in New York which I thought might have transferred here.

    • John Wyver says:

      Absolutely – and there’s quite a bit of Georg Buchner’s ‘Woyzeck’ in there too. Punchdrunk have acknowledged both this and ‘Day of the Locust’ (which is a great book), and I was thinking a little more obliquely. But I’m keen to gather our really keen to gather other thoughts too. Many thanks for the comment.

      • Paul says:

        Someone elsewhere pointed out that the movie in the cinema on the second floor (I think) ‘Eyes Without a Face’ was released in the US as ‘The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus’. Then again the US release title might just be confusing since they already used Faust…..

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