I was so excited to see Punchdrunk have a new London show. The worlds they create for audiences are spectacular and arresting. Wearing the Eyes Wide Shut-style mask (above) you enter an immersive theatre experience where you’re free to wander around and choose your own adventure over a three-hour period. The Burnt City is their latest extravaganza, a tale of Ancient Greek gods and mortals. Set in a vast warehouse, the space is divided into three levels, with the gods playing out their plans at the top, humans on earth in the middle, and a spooky underworld below. Everything happens continuously on a loop, so you walk round and try and put things together. Not only is this an insane feat of technical cues and actors knowing exactly where they need to be at certain moments, you get a wonderful layering of events happening at the same time – you can be watching the gods, then look over the balcony and see below how the humans are impacted. The action is in silence, but the space is filled with loud, haunting music and sound effects. It is weird to peep in to a room and see on the other side white masks staring into the same space, downright eery sometimes. But it’s also liberating to not be seen or judged, to have your emotions kept secret. I know promenade theatre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no interaction with actors, you’re not asked to do anything, just watch and wander and explore at your own pace.
If you know anything about Greek mythology, you’ll be aware it’s brutal, and there are some intense moments of gore and violence, and also nudity, so it’s not for under-16’s. You’re asked to not touch the actors, they almost walk through you as if you’re a ghost, your presence is not acknowledged. Every single piece you look at is pure poetry, the physical theatre is sublime. The winding corridors of sets and small spaces you can explore around the warehouse are like installation art, there’s so much to take in. You can visit the bar anytime (and take your mask off) which was one of my favourite bits – there’s a 1940s speakeasy vibe, and gods each have their own cabaret act – singing, dancing, magic tricks. The comedy clashes with the intense action, and it works so well. Whilst getting to the bar I realised there was a whole other world I hadn’t explored, and in the amazing ending scene (if a god in the bar asks you if you want to go to a party make sure you do), I saw several characters I hadn’t seen at all yet. Dammit! I will have to go again, and luckily – booking has been extended to April 2023. I can’t recommend this show enough, I love immersive theatre, it’s not often you get to be part of another world, time and space, and Punchdrunk make sure they take you there.
The Burnt City is at One Cartridge Place, just seconds from Woolwich tube station on the Elizabeth line. There are matinees and evening performances, and several ‘lates’ you can book to carry on the fun after the main show ends. Tickets start at £55-£100 for standard, there are VIP experience tickets, and Borough of Greenwich residents and some under-25’s can pay £25. Click here for more information and to book.
Punchdrunk kindly gifted me tickets for this review. All views my own.