You are walking down a narrow corridor lit only by the occasional flickering light. A line of people follows, whispering nervously as they narrowly avoid collisions in the dark. You come out into a room where you are handed a white mask, and you stand for a moment in silence. Then a disembodied voice welcomes you to Temple Studios, and cast members guide you into a lift, where you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with masked strangers. The lift shudders and begins to descend.
From there, you are on your own.
Seeing The Drowned Man is like being in a dream. The set spans over four floors and is mind-blowing in its detail. You are welcome to go anywhere you like, whenever you like- rifle through drawers, climb the stairs, open doors- but be prepared for what you might find on the other side. You will encounter all kinds of characters as you explore, and all of them have a story to tell. Follow whoever catches your interest- there is no right or wrong way to experience this show, and I know people who have been more than 20 times and have still not seen all there is to see. It is, depending on whom you follow, dark, beautiful, tragic, romantic, exciting and terrifying.
One moment you could be in the middle of a lively hoedown in a bustling bar, the next following a figure in black across a shadowy desert. You’ll be watching a couple embrace in the woods while distant screams and music beckon you to keep exploring. At times you might find yourself jostling for space in a crowd, at others you might be entirely alone, lost in the maze. If you are lucky enough, the character you are following might even reach out their hand to you- take it and you’ll be in for a surprise that only a few will ever see.
There are a few rules- wear comfortable shoes, don’t remove your mask unless prompted to- and it is strongly recommended that you ‘go it alone’ to get the best and most personal adventure. So lose your friends, immerse yourself, and be brave; this is an unforgettable experience that you, too, will never really be able to explain.
Ends 6th July - nationaltheatre.org.uk & punchdrunk.com
By Alys Hobbs