Review – The Telegraph
27th March 2013
The huge appetite for “immersive” theatre shows no signs of abating. This week, Punchdrunk announced their “biggest” UK show to-date,The Drowned Man, a co-production with the National, which – coming from a company that takes over entire buildings with its magna opera – is saying something. The venue, an abandoned property in the heart of London, yet to be disclosed, boasts some 200,000 square feet of space. Although there are other excellent outfits working in this burgeoning site-specific field – Shunt, dreamthinkspeak and bumbumtrain to name three obvious examples – Punchdrunk’s Felix Barrett is the leader of the pack when it comes to unlocking unusual doors. William Hill should take bets on his being able to crack Buckingham Palace.
Actually, judging by the short “live trailer” I caught in a specially customised shop on Kingsland High Street, Dalston, The Drowned Man – based on Buchner’s Woyzeck – may be grand in scale but it’s going to be dark, dingy and lacking in creature-comforts in terms of ambience. The show, ostensibly located in a seedy 60s Hollywood underworld, draws inspiration from celluloid – but it’s cardboard boxes that were the main take-home memory from the mysterious goings-on I experienced in north London.
By palatial contrast, another group of invaluable pioneers in the world of promenade theatre, Look Left Look Right, have followed up their delightful run-around show You Once Said Yes with Above and Beyond, another piece designed to be experienced by one participant at a time. They’ve set up shop in a five-star hotel – The Corinthia on Whitehall Place, about as plush and central as it gets. The management were rightly cautious about this adventurous spin on their artist-in-residence programme, as the 70-minute experience takes the lucky, intrepid visitor not only front-of-house – required to step into the shoes of serving staff – but also behind (and up) stairs, even as far as one of the penthouse suites, as it stitches together a tale of disguise, old-world romance and a wartime escapade.
There’s an astonishing sleight-of-hand trick to round off the night but the whole thing – fun, adrenalin-arousing, and packed with lovely touches and little surprises – is magical. The incredibly polished logistical exercise going on around you as you dash from one thing to the next transforms the way you see everything and everyone you encounter – including yourself – long after you leave the opulent premises.