Immersive theatre has always been something that envelops the senses and piques the curiosity but I have never experienced anything as grand and as effortless as The Burnt City, the latest production by world renowned immersive entertainment pioneers Punchdrunk whose work includes The Drowned Man and Sleep No More as well as many other shows, projects and partnerships. But today's review is all about the The Burnt City, the company's production in Woolwich, London. The shows website gives the following description:
In the smouldering promise of the fall of Troy, a mythical world of gods and mortals rises from the ashes. As Greece teeters on the brink of victory, the neon backstreets of Downtown Troy give way to a sprawling labyrinth hiding secrets even the prophecies could not foretell. In this colossal playground, the furies watch on as mortals play out their fate. And as night falls, the city comes alive. One last time.
Upon arrival you are greeted by a pretty plain and unassuming building. From the outside you would never know the wonders, emotions or mysteries that await inside. You enter, get given a small bag to lock your phone away into (Which you carry around it) and a playing card. This card is your ticket to enter and as you walk into the bar area there is immediately a spark in the air of anticipation. The host explains that when you card gets called, come up and await your fate. You enter, get a safety briefing and the white face mask that Punchdrunk has become synonymous for and shown in. I'm not going to go into detail about everything that happens inside as that is impossible, but what the rest of this review will do is try to explain things we saw whilst trying to not give away spoilers.
(Cast headshots from 15th January performance)
Two cities stand before you and you will enter into one of them, either the bright and bustling Troy or the dark and almost empty Mycenae. The difference between the two is pretty obvious, even for newbies and both are connected by a corridor, so you can wander around the entire thing. But what you do when you enter is entirely up to to you. Your decisions unravel your experience and your story. Do you choose to just wander around soaking in the sights, lights and sounds of the many rooms, scenes and characters around you or do you follow specific characters and witness their stories unfold or do you weave between the worlds and just follow what piques your interest. There is no wrong answer to how you experience it, especially on your first visit, but make sure you revisit as this experience gets more meaningful and understood with multiple visits . Every scene in the show is explained through a unique blend of music, dance and lighting and many characters will intertwine throughout and it is so easy to get distracted by a distant sound or a new character you've not seen. The sets and attention to detail rivals nothing i've ever done before. Fancy a nose through a diary, do it, fancy sitting in the cafe, do it. The extremely talented cast of performers will entice and enthral with the simplest of movements or looks and they really express and give it every thing they have got each and everytime and it is always an absolute pleasure and honour to witness them.
(Cast headshots from 15th January perfomance)
My most recent visit, my third in fact, I personally decided to follow a few characters through their story loops and saw moments of death, happiness, betrayal, just a complete emotional spectrum and I went with the emotion that each scene gave. I danced with joy and celebrated with Iphigenia (the daughter of queen of Greece) at her hen party, I saw loyalty descending into PTSD with The Watchman ( a member of the Greek army) and servitude and sadness with Luba (A worker in the Elsyium hotel). But my previous two visits were completely different in both atmosphere and journey. My first I wandered about soaking in the sights and watched some of the big scenes that you will likely notice such as the battle of between gods, which uses lighting in such a simple yet fantastical way to the invasion of Troy which uses dance in a simple yet heartbreakingly powerful way. My second visit I found myself staying solely in Troy and followed a couple of characters and explored some of the rooms and scenes I hadn't seen. No matter what you do, the three hours fly by effortlessly and before long you are witnessing the finale (finales if you're lucky) of the show, both of which end the show in a fitting way for each city and the characters who reside in them.
The enormity of the The Burnt City is something that will make some people feel anxious about visiting but please don't. It may sound scary but honestly it's the most astounding experience I've ever had and I am officially hooked. The combination of all the elements just come together at the right moments to captivate and entertain and I can easily see why many people return time and time again. I want to also add a huge thank you to all the staff and performers and creators for three absolutely stunning performances.
The Burnt City is now open until September. For more information and to book tickets you can visit The Burnt City website.