Reviews are in for The Burnt City, the new immersive show from Punchdrunk at Woolwich Works in London.
Billed as a “future noir” retelling of the fall of Troy, the immersive experience will contrast ancient worlds of Troy and Mycenae, with each world given a dystopian sci-fi twist, and where audiences will encounter gods, monsters, secret passageways and more.
The Burnt City is Punchdrunk’s most ambitious and epic production ever, and features a cast of over 30 international performers, including original members of Punchdrunk’s first shows.
This major new show takes place in Punchdrunk’s new permanent home in Woolwich Arsenal – three Grade II Listed Buildings which now form part of the new creative district, Woolwich Works.
The Burnt City is booking until 4 December 2022 at One Cartridge Place, Woolwich Arsenal, London. Book tickets to The Burnt City
To find out what the critics thought of The Burnt City, read reviews below from the Guardian, Times, Evening Standard, TimeOut and more.
Punchdrunk: The Burnt City reviews
"Spectacle eclipses story in siege of Troy epic"
"This immersive retelling of Greek tragedies is stylish and atmospheric but lacks narrative momentum and its scattered scenes can be frustratingly arcane"
"The immense space and its immersive elements are impressive – we really feel as if we are in a bombed-out city, travelling through its grime and crumbling grandeur. Even the bar is immersive, with its own Cabaret-style decadent and risque performances, with magnificent singing by Kimberly Nichole."
"There is an increasingly exhausting feeling in this three-hour show of moving around the circuit of rooms in search of more performers, more story. Some of the longer and more dynamic scenes, when they come, are enthralling. In the most powerful moment a group of men move towards a desperate huddle of Trojan women, one of whom is strung up, half-naked and bloodied. The terror and tragedy – of female sacrifice and male violation – pervades the vast room, which looks like a gladiator’s ring. It could be a scene from Pat Barker’s magnificent and horrifying The Silence of the Girls, though it uses no words. Its emotional power lands like a punch and shows us that this company can orchestrate fantastically potent human theatre."
"Punchdrunk’s return is simply astonishing"
"Punchdrunk’s first major venture in London for eight years, inspired by the Trojan War, will blow you away"
"There’s an earnestness here that thankfully stops just short of absurdity. I slightly resent the way immersive theatre relies on FOMO, the promise that something more exciting is in the next room. And I wonder where spectating shades into voyeurism: quite often here masked crowds cluster around women changing their tops. But chiefly I was overawed by the rich, vivid, momentous achievement of Barratt, Doyle and their cast and cohorts here. Simply astonishing."
"The fall of Troy has never been so neon — or bewildering"
"In their new London home — factory buildings in the old Woolwich Arsenal — the directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle have created an experimental piece that represents the fall of Troy. That, at least, is what the publicity material says: the truth is that the narrative is so flimsy and opaque that you could just as easily convince yourself that you’ve wandered into an avant-garde version of Cabaret or a particularly louche version of Footballers’ Wives."
"After two hours, sensory deprivation began to set in, but I at least managed to find the bar where a rackety band was playing Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). At the end of the third hour, back in the shadowy maze, I saw some of the actors gather for a brief dance to a techno beat. I’m sure their gyrations would have been endlessly fascinating if I had first taken some hallucinogenic drugs."
"The immersive theatre trailblazers return with an all-consuming vision of the siege of Troy"
"The current embracing of all things classical – the National has just announced that a large-scale adaptation of The Odyssey will take place across the country next year – involves a search for a vocabulary that can encompass arbitrary and predictable terrors: blows from the gods and cycles of revenge horror. The Burnt City, a vision of the siege of Troy, draws on Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Euripides’s Hecuba. It is not so much a re-enactment as a response to these works."
"Driving narrative is not Punchdrunk’s strong suit. Actually, the more driving (as in their 2009 It Felt Like a Kiss) the less original. They are creators of distilled moments. Crossing a border checkpoint into Troy, reimagined as a hub of decadence, you can see the Hotel Elysium (“no refunds”), a room in a tenement building with a half-eaten supper congealing in a Baby Belling, and a woman writhing in all-over leather as she waits for her dealer; Willow Weep for Me is playing. Almost most impressive are the apparently redundant rooms, places that might have been left as sketches but are meticulously realised: a taproom that has kegs of “Styx” and “Hades”; a pottery shop with rows of tiny clay figures of Poseidon and Athena. The most static scenes can contain an inward energy: magnificently, they urge you to look for the past that has made them."
"Immersive theatre legends Punchdrunk return with a jaw-dropping riff on Greek myth"
"Punchdrunk has a very distinct aesthetic, and when the company was more prolific and there was a new production every couple of years it was easy to affect a certain cynicism about the recurring elements. But as they finally return after eight years away, it’s clear that there is no other immersive theatre company even remotely comparable to Punchdrunk."
"It’s all hauntingly beautiful thanks to Doyle’s ominous slo-mo choreography and the silent actor-dancers’ extraordinary physicality (it is an amazing show for just seeing dancers’ bodies close up – they don’t look like us!). And there’s a secret weapon in Stephen Dobbie’s extraordinary score, which veers from the usual Lynchian throbs and drones to soaringly emotional, string-drenched sheets of post-rock that I think would probably only work in rooms of this size. It all adds up to genuinely gripping storytelling. You might see it as damning with faint praise, but this is the first time I started a Punchdrunk show by spending 45 minutes following a single story, and actually knowing what’s going on."
"Does it all add up to something? Does it have a message? Well, I think it’s an extraordinarily beautifully wrought tribute to the savage, doomy mysticism of Greek mythology. It probably has tangential echoes of the current war in Ukraine: a vibrant civilisation besieged by a shattered, exhausted, soulless superpower. But mostly it feels like a new monument to the power of its creators’ vision. After eight years away, Punchdrunk have returned, and they’re still awe-inspiring."
"Ambitious, intoxicating – simply nothing else like it"
"Punchdrunk’s new show features heady, brilliant storytelling that resists easy interpretations"
"The Burnt City is both an attempt at perfecting the format Punchdrunk is known for – richly designed, inventively choreographed and deeply immersive experiences – and a knowing riff on it. It won’t be for everyone, but there is simply nothing else like it."
"The Burnt City stands apart in terms of its ambition and beauty. Its intoxicating, clever storytelling asks you to rein in the desire to be omnipotent and play a while among the gods and monsters."
"Punchdrunk are back – but have lost a little of their magic"
"The company’s latest show drawing on Greek myth is one of the hottest tickets at present – but it doesn’t quite live up to the hype"
"The phenomenal sets, designed by company founder Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns, are like cinematic soundstages, hyperreal and shimmeringly fantastical. And there are flashes of brilliance in the performance, co-created and directed by Barrett and choreographer Maxine Doyle.
"But for a piece inspired by classical tragedy – specifically, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Euripides’ Hecuba – there’s a surprising absence of dramatic impact, and a lot that is confusing, ponderous or frustrating."
"Not quite a theatrical Trojan horse"
"This major new work by the immersive pioneers has some good ideas, but lacks the surprise of their greatest work"
"After eight years away from major happenings in London they’ve taken over two listed buildings amid the old Royal Arsenal site by the river at Woolwich. Felix Barrett, Maxine Doyle and team have got 100,000 square feet to play with, and they go to town, or to Troy, with it. With mixed results; this doesn't match the surprise and spontaneity of their Poe-inspired masterwork The Masque of the Red Death, but even if it disappoints by their standards, the scale and attention to detail leaves the competition standing."
"For me, the huge redeeming feature lay in the closing sections, amid the cavernous and palatial Greek area: shiver-making, brutal and beautiful scenes recognisable from The Oresteia and a final frenzied dance that transcends time, like a Grecian urn coming to life. The future of theatre? It feels a little too variable – however knowingly so – for that, but it still undoubtedly brings the past to all-consuming life with inventive twists and turns, and obsessive passion."
"Punchdrunk's immersive Greek tragedy show The Burnt City may leave you footsore and slightly confused, but the designs are marvellous"
"There’s no dialogue. It’s apparently based on Euripides’ slaughter-fest play Hecuba and Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. But as an experience it is curiously short on the grieving, hand-on-mouth horror of those ancient plays.
"There are moments of grandeur, though. For example, a frantic charleston dance leads down a staircase to a human sacrifice on a huge steel girder. There’s a rivulet of blood down the woman’s neck. The gods are propitiated.
"It’s staged magnificently to Hans Zimmer-like music."
"Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City is a stunning immersion in the fall of Troy"
"... at the core is a moving story of two bereaved mothers living and reliving the loss that has destroyed them"
"The Carnage of War, in Punchdrunk’s New London Show"
"In contrast to previous Punchdrunk shows — like the company’s signature New York success, “Sleep No More” — there is little buttonholing of individual playgoers for one-on-one encounters (perhaps not so desirable in the age of social distancing), and the proceedings don’t build to the usual galvanic finale. You depart impressed by a concerted appeal to the imagination, though maybe another go-round is needed to fill in the gaps."