The year’s most spectacular theatrical extravaganza

THEATRE
THE DROWNED MAN
Temple Studios | By Steve Dinneen
Five Stars

Punchdrunk theatre company has been flying the flag for immersive theatre for over a decade, joining the likes of Shunt and Secret Cinema in dragging the genre from niche installations in trendy basements to marquee productions that charge £50 a ticket.

Unlike some of Punchdrunk’s peers, though, the sense of freedom in The Drowned Man is absolute. After entering through a pitch-black corridor, you feel your way to a holding room where you are handed a white Venetian mask and told not to take it off. After this… Well, it’s up to you.

If you want to spend three hours skulking in a forest, sleeping in a trailer or making sand angels in the desert, then that’s fine (although, seriously, maybe get help). Or if you’re tired and just fancy watching cabaret at the bar, that’s fine too.

The “plot” – which is outlined before you enter the performance space – follows two couples, one member of each discovering an infidelity that leads them to exact bloody revenge.

The first hour inspires a sense of hyper-Fomo (fear of missing out; get with it). The space is vast – a disused sorting office, spanning four stories – and there is barely a square foot without something to explore. Actors perform seemingly arbitrary tasks that interlink into a vague tapestry. As the ghost-faced audience members jostle and elbow past each other, straining to keep up with the cast (who you can recognise by the absence of masks), they become complicit in the dark twists of the narrative; ever present voyeurs, leering from windows, watching the characters as they undress, fight, cry and make love.

No doubt if you had a few days to study each room, each letter, each individual performance, you could string together a coherent narrative, but it’s impossible in three hours. In fact, you could quite easily miss the eponymous murders altogether, becoming sidetracked by the myriad of painstakingly created nooks and crannies. The thought that has gone into the minutia of every room is extraordinary – sheafs of handwritten notes lie scattered alongside dusty film-set ephemera; every surface cluttered with carefully curated nick-nacks.

The influence of film director David Lynch is deeply ingrained; from the glossy, sinister-edged Americana of the Grease-inspired musical being filmed upstairs, to the Twin Peaks-esque hick-town and the ubiquitous, growling music.

The basement is where the real horrors lurk: alongside the prosthetics and special effects are hidden-away rooms full of nightmares. One such annex, down an unassuming corridor, housed a field of rotting sunflowers. You could try to read some wider meaning into it, but, really, it’s there because it looks creepy.

The sticky temperatures induced by the heat wave serve to make the whole thing even more disorientating. This is what video games will be like in the future: a full, sensory experience where you tread your own path, dwell on the aspects of the narrative that most appeal to you. I loved it; really loved it.

FILM
THE WOLVERINE 3D
Cert 12a | By Steve Dinneen
One Star

THE X-MEN are among Marvel’s most beloved, enduring characters. Unfortunately its film arm, Marvel Studios, doesn’t own the rights to them: Fox does. And it seems to want to make us hate the X-Men.

You can just about forgive the dialogue; what you can’t forgive is how boring it is, especially the interminably dull fight sequences. The Wolverine could have been a bright, zingy blockbuster or a dark, introspective parable; instead it hits a saggy grey area somewhere in-between. It’s a timid, clawless beast that looks even more conspicuous in 3D. It’s time for Fox to give back the wolf.

EXHIBITION
THE CATHEDRALS OF ENGLAND
Wapping Project Bankside | By Alex Dymoke
Four Stars

IN THE shadow of Tate Modern’s industrial chimney and nestled between various glass-fronted offices, photographer Peter Marlow’s new exhibition is the perfect place to take refuge from the demands of the city.

In 2007 Marlow embarked on a pilgrimage to all of England’s 42 cathedrals. The photographs are compositionally the same – looking straight down the nave – which highlights the architectural differences. From the bare modernism of Coventry cathedral to the ornate flourishes of St Pauls, you don’t have to be a Christian to be impressed by their echoey charisma.

FILM
FRANCES HA
Cert 15 | By Alex Dymoke
Three Stars

LIFE is hard for best friends Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner), what with all its parties and emails and blogs and pressure to stay connected and keep up appearances in a recession hit New York. If only it was possible to live on ballet classes and novels alone.

Frances is cast adrift when Sophie takes leave of their floaty mid-twenties limbo to shack up with her banker boyfriend. With no proper job or relationship – “undateable” is how she describes herself – she wanders from flat to flat, struggling for a foothold in adult life.

Noah Baumbach’s films sail dangerously close to cloying self-indulgence: characters mumble around expensive apartments in a state of bohemian anomie, referencing Virginia Woolf while the universe passes by the window. In Baumbach’s world, tea-drinking signifies sensitivity and the quirks of social dysfunction are worn like hip Williamsburg fashion accessories. It’s enough to make you want to commit a massacre in a yoga centre.

Lucky then, that Baumbach has an actress as compelling as Greta Gerwig at his disposal. It takes the eyes a while to adjust to her long limbs gangling about the screen. She is an authentic oddity surrounded by artificial oddness, and her personality unfurls through the film, the camera uncovering new expressions and ticks as the scenes progress.

Frances Ha may be a self-satisfied portrait of middle class hopelessness but I could watch Gerwig gaze at her navel for hours.