# A Sea of Troubles (The Drowned Man review)
A show in this format is more than usually subjective, but I can only review my own experience. That said, I listened to Punchdrunk, and followed their advice to the letter; I went alone, I wandered and explored, not systematically but at random, consciously forgetting what I knew about what could be found where. If there was a better way to experience the show (and certainly I ment people who'd stuck with their friends, or followed the main characters, and seemed to have had a better time of it), I feel the fault is with them more than me.
Partly I was just unlucky. I didn't find the bar until the very end, and had some difficulty finding toilets (partly my fault, but partly due to poor directions from staff), which in turn meant I missed most of the finale. But I doubt said finale would have changed my judgement overmuch, because I wasn't waiting for a resolution - indeed I'd barely put together any coherent narrative or even characterization. I followed one character after another, magpie-like, and saw vignettes, individual isolated snippets. But even when I followed the same character for a while it felt like I was seeing scenes from several different stories that had nothing to do with each other. I gravitated to the cafe and watched the waitress taking her rollerskates on and off just to have some kind of center to connect things to - but while I discovered much of her (no doubt intricately choreographed) cycle, I was left none the wiser as to what was supposed to be going on.
Choreography is where *The Drowned Man* works. If you're a fan of dance there were some very cool physical routines - the silent argument mixed with intimacy from the lovers on and around their car, the two people who meet in the empty desert and throwing sand into the air as they twirl, the full-scale cheerleader routine that seemingly half the cast sneaks into. And encountering them serendipitously as you walk around a corner does add something - but that same magic also makes the limitations of the format painfully obvious. When an improptu hoedown broke out at the country bar, I wanted to join in; instead I was steered away from where a fight was scripted to start soon. When I bumped into a stranger as we wandered across the barren desert, the two of us alone under a seemingly infinite blackness, it felt like one of those perfect moments, the kind of thing that justifies being told to "ditch your friends" - but within the rules we couldn't say anything to each other, couldn't make any kind of human contact, couldn't even smile past our punchdrunk-issue masks (which get to be quite uncomfortable after an hour or two).
It felt like being a ghost at a LARP event, watching other people have fun but unable to join in. And the undirected, go-wherever-you-like performance, far from giving me a sense of freedom, left me constantly worried that I was missing the good parts, like a festival where you don't have a programme but you're pretty sure there's a better band playing on the other stage. (I loved the last "immersive theatre" performance I attended, The Alchemic Order's production of *The Picture of Dorian Grey*, which weaved in and out of a period house, making scene changes a visceral thing. But there freedom only extended so far: the cast followed a simple, linear plotline, and there was never any doubt about what we were supposed to be looking at)
It's not cheap, either, although one can see where all the money has gone - the huge number of acrobatically skilled performers and the incredibly detailed sets. One can walk into a caravan that seems like it's just a background shell and discover period books, posters, a diary written in crude ink containing details that (presumably) connect to the wider plot. Buried down a coridor I found a whole chapel made of straw and stone and totally empty. In an empty dressing room three of us pored over a lady's handbag and the note inside it. Even when I caught nothing of the story, the tone and mood are perfect, transporting you very effectively to another time and place.
*The Drowned Man* overdoes it though. The masks the audience wears, the entrance through a dark and twisting passageway, the group capriciously divided in two at the start are effective haunted-house tricks - but tricks they are, and they cheapen the production. And the fear they inspire isn't always so unreasonable; there were a couple of stubbed toes and scraped elbows on the way in. Less trivially, at one point I (quite a large guy) was following a small woman down a stairwell, noone else in sight, only to find that at the bottom she was trapped between me and a locked door; at that point a fear of the dark starts to seem a bit less silly.
There were certainly moments that meant something to me - the fact that I'm writing this at all is proof of that. But the show's abject failure to cohere into any kind of whole means couldn't recommend it to anyone bar the most devoted dance/physical theatre fans. And to those who found the format intriguing, who felt there was something wonderful that they were on the cusp of finding, I urge you: put your self-consciousness to one side for one weekend and take part in a proper LARP event. That's where you'll find the immersive, transformative experience that Punchdrunk advertises but can't quite deliver.
 Aside: I think I've figured out why interactive experiences - roleplaying or even videogames - tend to use fantasy or sci-fi settings. In more literary genres the story is driven by the characters - but that's the very piece the participants are supposed to provide themselves. So instead we use genres where setting - which can be fully controlled - and plot - which can be at least partially controlled - will drive the story, and the players will *hopefully* create something on top but there's some level of fallback to take the pressure off if they're not on best form today.
*The Drowned Man* does this to a certain extent - the time and place it creates are instantly recognizable. But - if the intro notes are to be believed, with their love triangles and descents into madness - it's trying to be a character piece, which is part of where it falls down.
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