Emotive choreography, dramatic soundscapes and dream-like spaces: Punchdrunk return to London with their first major show, ‘The Burnt City’, in eight years. The colossal production sees ancient Greek mythology around the fall of Troy retold, with a dystopian twist.
Outside, the building is unassuming – we enter through double doors and drop our bags in the cloakroom. Soon, however, it becomes evident this isn’t a normal theatre production. As with previous Punchdrunk shows, ‘The Burnt City’ is a non-linear performance. The audience walks through the spaces encountering actors performing short scenes at various intervals. As we enter we’re instructed to wear blank, full-face masks; differentiating us from the actors and allowing for anonymity in our exploration. We are told not to stick together – this is a show best experienced alone.
In the first performance space we are met by a series of huge curtains, that, when swept back, reveal unmade beds and flickering lanterns in hidden corners. This space acts as a gentle introduction before we become fully immersed in ‘The Burnt City’. A little further in, the production is overwhelmingly vast – with so much to explore, it’s hard to shake the fear you’re missing out on something better in the next space along. However, once you get your bearings, the best moments are the ones you discover accidentally; a barman setting out cups in a neon-lit backstreet bar, a secret passage full of coats through a wardrobe door, a wall that, when tapped, reveals an ornate gold sculpture in a cloud of smoke.
‘The Burnt City’ is eerie, surreal – like stepping inside a David Lynch film. The spaces are meticulously considered, subtle details making you feel as though someone has only just left. Cast members drift around the spaces with groups of masked audience members in tow. The actors are mostly silent, instead communicating via carefully considered movements and expressions expertly choreographed by Maxine Doyle. Often over as quickly as they begin, these movements are mesmerising to watch.
‘The Burnt City’ is unlike any other theatre experience; completely immersive, exciting and compelling – what it lacks in traditional narrative it more than makes up for in pure spectacle.
‘The Burnt City’ runs at One Cartridge Place until 4 December and tickets are available here: lyric.co.uk/shows/scandaltown
Photo of performer Alison Monique Adnet is by Julian Abrams
Reviewed by Amy Melling – Amy is a Curator and Creative Producer whose practice is centred around community-led arts projects. Her current research is focused on curatorial methods for exhibiting artworks outside. Amy has a keen interest in the arts and recently completed an MA in Curating and Collections at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL.