There’s no way to fully describe The Burnt City, the latest immersive theater production by Punchdrunk Productions that just opened in London, other than to say that it’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Even if I give away everything I encountered, it would still be markedly different from what you’ll experience.
What you need to know before you go to Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City.
Booking Tickets For The Burnt City
Tickets for Punchdrunk sell out very quickly. If you can, try to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale. Currently, there are different types of tickets available, including discounted tickets for local residents.
There are multiple entry times throughout the first hour of the show, so make sure to choose the earliest admission when booking and join the queue on time. The stories are told in three loops and there are around 20 characters you can follow. By arriving there on time you’ll give yourself the chance of a fuller experience.
Coming To The Play
Standard ticket holders queue up to the entryway on the left, while Premium and VIP ticket holders enter to the right. There will be a bag and coat check when you enter the space. Premium and VIP tickets include priority entry and the coat check-in is free of charge. You can put your phone in either your bag/coat when you hand it in or else it will be put in a small pouch at a later point.
There are enough toilets in the building, so you don’t have to panic if you can’t find anywhere to go in the Woolwich Arsenal area.
It’s emphasised in your ticket confirmation e-mail to wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for up to 3 hours running across different platforms, dimly-lit places, and up and down stairs so really really go for the most comfortable ones.
Don’t worry. No one expects you to wear a toga, or even a Greek Goddess or Greek soldier costume. Wear what you feel comfortable in and make sure to leave your coat, jacket or cardigan as it does get warm. Some spaces are comparable to a cramped, busy tube line during peak hours in terms of crowds and the temperature.
How To Get To One Cartridge Place?
The show takes place inside an old warehouse in Woolwich Arsenal, which was converted into separate rooms with different themes and layouts that you will be exploring.
Woolwich Arsenal Station is less than a 10 minutes walk away from One Cartridge Place and is easy to reach via Bank, Stratford International and London Bridge stations. Elizabeth Line get you there in 15 minutes from Liverpool Street, 20 minutes from Tottenham Court Road and 26 minutes from Paddington.
What To Expect Inside The Burnt City Show
There are two rules: you have to wear a white, plastic masquerade-style mask and you must remain silent for the entirety of the performance.
The Burnt City is an immersive theater experience, which means that you’ll need to explore. The entire performance takes place in one large space, and there are 10-15 acts taking place at any given time. Once you get in and you have your mask on you can either take your time to explore the sets or find a performer to follow. I recommend you do the latter. There is always time to explore later.
Performers move quickly so make sure you follow. There are different positions to watch different scenes, make use of that.
There is very little dialogue, and I only saw two actors speaking at length. There is a lot of dancing, especially compared to The Drowned Man and Sleep No More, their other shows I’ve attended.
The performers will interact with you. Grab your hand, fall at your feet or give you something to hold. So be prepared. There are also famous one-on-ones (an exclusive experience where the performer will choose an audience member and do a scene between just the two of them).
Make sure you go to both of the play’s two main spaces. Once you get to Troy you might forget to return to Mycenae in the other part of the venue, but lots happens over there too. Try to follow different performers each loop to experience the different parts of the story.
The Stories Behind Burnt City Explained (Spoilers)
Each experience is going to be different so giving you a plot summary of what I saw isn’t going to be particularly useful for your journey. Instead here’s the outline of the original Greek poems and plays so you can use that to put things together and figure out where your path fits into the wider narrative of these fascinating Greek myths.
Iphigenia tells the story of the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. It all kicks off when Agamemnon offends the goddess Artemis on his way to fight in the Trojan War. Artemis retaliates by stopping the Greek troops from reaching Troy unless Agamemnon gives up his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, as a human sacrifice. Iphigenia remains unaware of her imminent sacrifice until the last moment, and believes instead she’s being led to the altar to be married to Achilles. She accompanies her mother to the port of Aulis, only to be faced with the horrible truth. Narratives differ as to what happens regarding her sacrifice, but one of the main plots is that the goddess Artemis substitutes Iphigenia for a deer at the last minute. Iphigenia was then brought by Artemis to the city of Tauris where she became Artemis’s priestess.
Aeschylus’s Agamemnon is the first play in his Oresteia trilogy. It takes place at the end of the Trojan War and follows Agamemnon’s return home to his wife Clytemnestra, bringing with him a Trojan princess named Cassandra, who he has taken as his concubine. Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, is understandably angry and plans revenge for this as well as the sacrificing of her daughter Iphigenia (see the above story). Clytemnestra orchestrates the brutal murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra, assisted by her lover, Aegisthus. Clytemnestra then sets out her plan to rule Troy with Aegisthus.
Euripides’s Hecuba is a tragedy that takes place in the aftermath of the Trojan War but before the Greeks have departed Troy. The central figure is Hecuba, wife of King Priam and former queen of the now-fallen (or ‘burnt’) city. The play depicts Hecuba’s grief over the death (and in some versions self-sacrifice) of her daughter Polyxena and the murder of her youngest son Polydorus. The play begins with Polydorus’s ghost explaining that when the war threatened Troy, he was sent to King Polymestor of Thrace for safekeeping with gifts of gold and jewelry. But when Troy lost the war, Polymestor treacherously murdered Polydorus and seized the treasure. Hecuba then plots and executes her revenge against Polymestor for her son’s death.
Insider Tips For The Burnt City
Watch the major finale set piece from the hall below. It might look like it’s better to see the performance from above, but follow the actors down the stairs for the full experience.
Characters whose storylines I really enjoyed during the first visit: Hecuba (pink dress), Agamemnon (king) and Iphigenia (young bride).
When going to a matinee show on the weekend, keep in mind that there might be a football game at the nearby Charlton Stadium and your trains both ways may be very busy.
After The Show
When everything’s finished you’ll be escorted to the venue’s bar, where you can finally take off that mask and relax with a drink of your choice.
Afterwards, you can grab a drink or meal at The Guard House, a beautifully decorated historic pub and eatery, or Dial Arch, a former munitions factory turned pub and dining room. Right next to the venue is Boulangerie Jade, serving up delicious cakes and coffee, while also nearby is Chealson’s Coffee, which serves hot beverages out the back of a taxi cab.