Laure Bachelot as Mary in ‘The Drowned Man’
Laure Bachelot as Mary in ‘The Drowned Man’

Not everyone loves Punchdrunk. Ticket prices are steep, the plot is often awol, and it makes your feet hurt – according to some. At 13, it’s also old hat by now, inspired by computer games and Alien War – that “total reality” phenomenon in which actors dressed as marines lead people through a set filled with puppet aliens.

Well, there’s a lot to love in Punchdrunk’s newest “immersive” piece, based on Büchner’s Woyzeck (1837), the tragedy of a tormented soldier who murders the woman he loves.

Maxine Doyle and Felix Barrett have transformed an old Royal Mail sorting house into a decadent Hollywood studio. It’s 1962. There are two stories – with two Woyzecks; one male, one female – that mirror each other across three hours, four floors and more than 100 rooms. Wearing a mask, you roam where instinct leads you – a cabaret, a trailer-park, movie sets, wardrobes, rooms with wigs and props, a psychiatric ward, woods and dunes. The atmosphere is pungent, macabre, hot.

You stalk characters, snatching fragments of plot – before being sidetracked by a stuffed fawn strewn with flowers, say, or a bundle of love-letters inside a bedside drawer. Created by a team of more than 40, the design is amazingly detailed and beautiful – you can smell it, touch it. According to Barrett, some people even steal it.

Most of the action is expressed with dancing; dialogue is minimal. Characters move to a nightmarish soundtrack, punctuated by sultry teeny hits such as The Shangri-Las’ “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”. A doctor humiliates his patients, directors toy with weak Hollywood hopefuls, and love boils over. It’s seedy, odorous, frightening. The performers – all good – drip with sweat. It feels supremely alive.

And plot? You stumble over enough fragments to grasp both main strands, but you cannot expect to see everything – so there’s the fear of missing out. But that’s a virtue. With too much space and too many characters to absorb in one night, the possibilities for discovery feel limitless – you find stories everywhere – which is thrilling.

Your feet might hurt, and it is an expensive evening. But you should go. You might just get tangled up in the action, put in front of a camera, knifed, kissed – anything.; runs to December 30

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