Drowned Man, by Punchdrunk

Drowned Man, by Punchdrunk

These are some of my musings on the latest performance by Punchdrunk, in Temple studios, London, which left a deep impression on me. These musings are general and quite subjective thoughts, and are not descriptions of the plot, or of any particular encounters with objects, spaces or people, of which there were great many.


Illustration is a still from my film The Thread Between Us, 2013

The play was set in such a way that I felt like I entered a dream. The threshold between reality and world of imagination became fluid. I have a tendency towards this way of thinking anyway, so this has become very powerful experience. Anything was possible.

I first begun by exploring the spaces – there was something deliberate about the impossibility of following a path, of mapping the space analytically. One was constantly presented with branching realities, with alternatives and the only way to go was to abandon this sense of agency and control, and to allow the kind of free associative experience that one recognizes from lucid dreaming: i.e. you are aware of your brain generating imagery which is only partially in your control. This sense of passivity and being carried was in a strange contrast to this seeming ability to take decisions – there was something quite philosophical about this experience – like a distilled, compacted version of real life: by taking a choice, you rejected other possibilities. Yet opportunities often returned. As I found myself circling through the intricate web of spaces, I would at times return to the previous crossroads, and see them transformed by a presence of an encounter between two people, man and a woman, doctor and patient, seamstress and a customer, two lovers. The moment of drama would quickly play itself out in front of me – then one of the protagonists would run off, followed by a curious selection of some of our masked bystanders. These splits would endlessly repeat, creating ever new configurations of people, and within each one a unique set of experiences, a unique narrative.

These bystanders, their faces simply expressionless masks, functioned as the perfect backdrop to this whole experience of intense encounters in semi-darkness. Their passivity, my own passivity, combined with voyerism appeared only a slightly heightened version of the everyday apathy of crowds. At times I felt twinges of guilt, as if I should get involved to stop this violence in front of me.

I wandered through interiors choosing my path intuitively, on an impulse. Yet it felt like it wasn’t really me making these decisions. I was a marionette in a feverish performance that I had no understanding of.  There was a pleasure in this relinquishment of control. I was floating in a current, occasionally intervening to steer myself into a stream that tempted me.

There were moments when everybody else around me seemed to move according to a script: even people like me, the audience in masks, were pursuing characters with apparent focus and deliberation. Since this play encouraged the suspension of rational thinking, and entering of a state of imaginative potential close to childhood and its openness, anything was now an option. Perhaps I have been wandering here for hours and it is now midnight? Perhaps there is no way out? Perhaps I missed a clue and was abandoned in this maze of refracted realities for days?

When I finally took off my mask, and got out of the building in a stream of excited people, I found my long lost friend waiting for me by the gates. We went to look for a restaurant to eat. As we searched for a somewhere in the familiar streets of Paddington I realized I was still in the play, or a play: Like in a dream I once had about entering a cinema screen, and ending up inhabiting its tangible world, I realized that somehow I crossed the threshold between life and imagination, drawn into a play whose frame grew so wide that I could no longer see its edges. There is something very familiar about this state. I have a feeling I crossed this threshold before.

Anyhow – how exciting to know that this adventure is here to continue, in this expanded, hyper immersive version that is called living a life.

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