The Drowned Man – A Hollywood Fable

Edited by: matilde.casaglia@positive-magazine.com Online Editor – Art and Culture Department The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable is like an incredible, unique theatrical adventure. The journey unfolds in a mechanism that is difficult to keep together and impossible to describe, exactly like trying to keep your life together – which is also impossible to describe. To […]

Edited by: matilde.casaglia@positive-magazine.com Online Editor – Art and Culture Department

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The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable is like an incredible, unique theatrical adventure. The journey unfolds in a mechanism that is difficult to keep together and impossible to describe, exactly like trying to keep your life together – which is also impossible to describe.


To begin with, the story unfolds across four levels of a massive central London location, next to Paddington station, called Temple Studios. Secondly, all the members of the public attending the show need to wear a white mask with a big nose – like a modern and anonymous venetian mask. Lastly, you need to be prepared for naked scenes, for walking in the sand or in the woods, and for interacting with the actors at any time in any place.

Omar Gordon & Laure Bachelot. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0095)

Behind the scenes of a dreamy (also nightmarish at times)1960’s Los Angeles,  movie stars cohabit with young upstarts craving to be part of the studio system even if badly rejected.

Inspired by Georg Büchner’s fragmented Woyzeck, The Drowned Man explores the darkness of the Hollywood dream. Celluloid fantasy meets awakening reality, and the main theme is the most banal and the most powerful: love. Love and treason. Ok: love, treason and death.
Oliver Hornsby-Sayer. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0384)

Co-directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle created this labyrinth of freedom, of unknown identities, of autonomous spectators, all ready to explore the space and the emotions that the show will bring them with no constrictions or rules.

Interview with director Maxine Doyle.

1. What is the role of the people, with their white masks? Are they part of the play? Are they ghosts not to be considered?

The idea was to change the experience, from passive to a more proactive 360 degrees experience. The problem was how to distinguish the performers (we don’t call them actors but performers, in fact most of them are dancers) from the public, and that’s how we started to work with masks back in 2002. The mask gives a limit but at the same time it reflects a confidence on indulging your instinct, which makes you become an anonymous witness and fundamental part of the scenography at the same time.

Conor Doyle, Ed Warner, Omar Gordon, Tomislav English & Vinicius Salles. Punchdrunk. The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable. Photo Birgit & Ralf (0578)

2. How does the story unfold within the rooms? Is there a “right” way of doing it?

There is no one way. The purpose of the show is for everyone to have their own personal experience. Some people like to discover and wonder around, others are particularly intrigued by one of the performers and decide to follow him/her around the building.
Each character has a 1 hour long story, which he/she repeats three times during the course of the show. So, deciding to follow one of them, choosing a character to be your guide throughout the building and shift through the rooms with him/her is a way to do it. There are many other ways. Some people prefer not to have a guide, and to explore the space with no rules.

Fernanda-Prata-Jesse-Kovarsky.-Punchdrunk.-The-Drowned-Man-A-Hollywood-Fable.-Photo-Birgit-Ralf

3. The attention to details is incredible. Every room, every table, has objects on it that can be touched and experienced. I was particularly interested in the continuous presence of chess within the building. What is the symbol of all the chessboards?

Is very simple. All the story is around one character, which manipulates the life of all the other characters. Chessboards are the space where the manipulation takes place.

4. Will you tour the performance?

All the shows are sight driven. Is the building that leads us in re concealing it. We brought the same concept to other parts the world in the past, but not the same show, not The Drowned Man.

5. How do the performers cope with a big crowd around them, that follows them, a crowd that is curious to see them closely, finally allowed to be proactive witness?

For the performers it’s a completely different experience, as it is for the audience. The energy and the dynamics are totally different from any performance done on a stage. This is a real exchange and dialogue, which makes them really vulnerable. They have to have a 360 degrees sensibility and they must be trained for a sensitive experience. We chose performers that come from forms of dancing that are used to this sort of performance.

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