Theatre Review: The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable
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4/5 Picture the scene: a fading old-Hollywood actress, dressed in rags as a witch-like, caricatured grandmother figure, bent over and howling, whilst an audience clad in plague doctor masks surrounds her and looks on in silence. Elsewhere, various other sinister spectacles are taking place – we know this, without knowing where, or what they necessarily mean. All this in a disused 1940s film studio, once a British outpost for Hollywood and a cinematic powerhouse – before it began to decay, its staff were sworn to secrecy about goings–on inside, and it eventually shut down without warning or explanation over night in October 1962. It goes without saying that immersive theatrical production The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable would be eerie because of its setting alone. But it doesn’t rely on Temple Studio’s dark spaces and elusive history to provide its faded, questionable, slightly grotesque glamour – instead the direction, juxtaposition of parallel stories and way the characters deliberately lose the audience as they weave in and out of the studio’s labyrinth of corridors work together to create a production that is elusive, out of reach, and as disorientating as the building it is housed in – whilst remaining relentlessly engaging. As you begin watching (perhaps the wrong word, because this is not a production you passively watch – it is one where you are fully immersed and decide what form it takes), you might still be clinging onto the notion that you will be able to follow each of the multiple stories closely enough to develop some kind of linear narrative. You will be able to do this, but only if you follow one character relentlessly for the full three hours – which would be a mistake. The production requires you to let go of the inherent need to see and understand everything. Its immersive nature forces you to break the need for a structure, and dip in and out of the characters’ separate yet intertwined stories much as you would if observing people in a real life setting. It is an individual experience - entering, you are advised to follow your own path through the evening, rather than moving around with your companions. At times you might find yourself alone; a minute later in a crowd of 40 people. Often the actors feel uncomfortably close.
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