The Drowned Man is a piece of theatre in the promenade style, a multi-character, free-roaming piece played out over four floors of a soon-to-be-demolished sorting office beside Paddington station. Chris wrote about his visits last autumn, and it convinced Davids and Becky to head along, who in turn convinced me to try it out.
For a first-time visitor, Temple Studios is an overwhelming place. No sense of direction, lots going on, and a set much much more detailed than anything I’d yet experienced. It’s a strange, counter-intuitive, delightful thing.
I watched bizarre exchanges between sinister characters, saw a bewildered actress Wendy manipulated into a terrible dilemma, was taken aside for a private story with a seamstress whose makeup burned my lips, and was shown a awful, ugly secret in Studio 8.
I was completely taken. I described my visit in the same hurried, excitable state I’ve talked about crushes and lovers. I had to go back.
Temples Studios is a beautifully realised place. The whole world is entirely absorbing and the more I’ve seen of it the more I realise there are no ‘answers’.
Chris once said coffee is a food stuff too difficult to really get into as a hobbyist, given that a simple espresso can have its whole flavour changed by minor fluctuations in local air pressure. The Drowned Man is like that; each actor brings something different to each character and each night hangs a little different.
As a result it practically goads the attendee into a return visit. If you enjoyed one, there’s something inevitable about two or three or eight repeat showings. I was, in that sense, fully duped.
But at a time in my life where the narrative had started to congeal – the grumpy cludge towards wrapping up buying a flat and finally actually making good on a year of faffing – it was utterly not of my world. It was new, and fresh, and completely impossible to parse. It was clever and beautiful and all the things I didn’t feel at the time. I wanted to explore it.
The Drowned Man happens three times. Each loop takes approximately one hour, and the set pieces in it play out three times over. If you get in early you can see these scenes play out and decay in the retelling. New variations and motifs crop up alongside the various marks and lines the characters hit.
God I felt for Wendy. Watching her take her lover’s life at the end of one loop and at the start of another loop hide what would soon become the murder weapon. I wanted to stop everything and tell her what would happen next, what timeline she’d fallen into.
There was a moment where I crossed the town and saw, from another angle, a scene play out I’d already witnessed. I nearly ran away, so scared I was that I’d bump into myself. This is what happens when you put a Doctor Who fan into a room like that.
I’ve become a fan of The Drowned Man, but benefitted from others really diving into the fandom. I haven’t joined the spoiler group, I haven’t trawled the blogs, but I’ve gotten tip-offs about discount codes and things like the excellent playlist.
‘Burnin’ Hell’ is on there, a contribution to the Lawless OST by screenwriter and musician Nick Cave. I love the track. It crops up during two of the show’s dance numbers, wailing and flailing and whooping through the rooms with a lot more force than much of the rest of the work.
It’s the kind of music I’d love to learn, all raw snarling and wretched storytelling. And Nick Cave, man, Nick Fucking Cave. I barely know his music because I’m scared of that back catalogue. Him and Mark E Smith, the two angry men I’m nowhere near committing to yet. But I want to.
I’m eight visits in to The Drowned Man and there are different faces I’m drawn to now, different tales and different points of identification. They’re distributed around a cast of thirty, and I choose how they join up, I chose the things that pull them together.