Immersive Live On Stage

The Burnt City

The Burnt City
15 April 2022
One Cartridge Place
2.0 out of 5.0 stars

I hadn’t been to any Punchdrunk shows in the past, but I’ve heard so much about them, I just had to secure a ticket for their new show, The Burnt City.

After plenty of research on the show itself, and how to best approach Punchdrunk immersive shows, I felt very prepared and extremely excited as I headed down to Woolwich.
Every audience member has to wear a mask covering their face from forehead to the tip of the nose, as well as a face mask underneath for covid safety. This really helps distinguish audience members from characters in the show, as well as creating a somewhat eerie atmosphere.

The show starts off like a museum exhibition on ancient Greek art, with audiences being led past illuminated exhibits and introduced to vague history of the items. Without much of a further preface, we are catapulted in to a sprawling city to explore.

My absolute favourite part about this experience was the free roaming nature of it, where everyone could just wander around, enter any room that wasn’t locked, explore to their heart’s content. There are so many spaces and rooms to discover, and very few limits on where you can go, with each room being outfitted intricately with so many props and decorations, an absolute delight!

However, the immersive show part of it had me very disappointed by the end. It started off great, the first scene unfolding in a market place, I chose one of the actors to follow, as advised by many Punchdrunk fans, and was curious to see what story would unfold before my eyes.

This excitement unfortunately fizzled out quite quickly when I discovered that the acted scenes were more akin to interpretive dance and grand gesturing than any discernible story or even verbal interaction.

Every scene I witnessed just seemed like very dramatic gesturing with little else to drive a narrative. There were a few scenes that included words, conversations that weren’t just whispered between the actors, but not very many that I could find.

Getting a little irritated with this lofty, artsy portrayal that had little to do with what I’m used to from interactive-immersive shows, I started to wander more freely, happening across scenes and occasionally following actors from scene to scene for a little while. However, I found most of it quite boring and bland, with nothing much being said and so many scenes just being instances of very dramatic dancing. Which isn’t bad per se, but really not my thing personally.
I did discover the second part of the set, which had a few more dynamic scenes happening inside it, but still felt the immersive part was sorely lacking.

Sure, some actors would occasionally whisper into an audience member’s ear, or hold their hand for a minute, or hand them a prop and stare very dramatically, but other than that I didn’t see any interactions happening. Mostly the audience was just invisible bystanders, which isn’t bad in itself, but I expected so much more from how often and passionately Punchdrunk was recommended to me as THE defining standard of immersive theatre.

So overall, while it is in no way a bad production, I felt very disappointed as I made my way to the train on the way home. And chatting with a few other attendees on the way, there seemed to be a general air of disenchantment. I spoke to one person who had been to other Punchdrunk shows before who said this one left them very disappointed and deflated as well. So it wasn’t just me.
However, there were many people extremely excited and absolutely in love with the show! Others have said as the show is still in previews, it may change significantly in the next few months.

For me personally, it was a disappointment. While the set and atmosphere were phenomenal, there just wasn’t a lot going on show wise, and too little immersive interactions. However, if you enjoy more lofty, interpretive, dramatic dance without much spoken word, this might be just the show for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.