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Review: ‘The Burnt City’ Shows Why Punch Drunk Are Leaders In Interactive Theater Performances

The Burnt City – is ancient Troy devastated by the recently ended siege.
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The Burnt City is a dark and bold vision of Ancient Greek tragedy told across two acres of interactive theatre. Award-winning theatre company Punch Drunk is a leader in the world of interactive theatre. The show is running in London until the end of September.

Unlike their peers, Punch Drunk has shown real industry leadership with their use of dance, lighting and dramatic sound effects. In The Burnt City, this can make you feel like you are in a Netflix-level production as you wander its rooms and passages. The Burnt City – is ancient Troy devastated by the recently ended siege. At one point I stepped into an abandoned guardhouse at a checkpoint.

Presumably, a holdover from the siege of Troy. Every detail was believable right down to a real box of matches. This small box was easily within reach for the thousands of guests for the show, but fortunately, no one with pyromaniac or arsonist tendencies decided to take the name “The Burnt City” literally.

This attention to detail is admirable.

I found there to be three main approaches to the Burnt City – similar to the classic first-person shooter video game Counter-Strike. The first campers choose an interesting spot where a lot of action happens and stay there. A massive split-level section of the set is one such option. The second option is to follow the pack. Certain actors perform in one room only to dart across the set to another location. Usually, large groups are in tow. Finally, there is the lone wolf approach – wandering the map at random hoping for meaningful encounters. All three approaches have their charm.

Though following certain actors can prove daunting as the corridors and turns can be tight. I followed one actor into a room only to discover that I had joined a different crowd following a different actor. He paced around and sliced opened a pomegranate as I tried to figure a way out to follow the first actor. I disappointedly discovered the door I had entered was locked. The sole actor in this room soon unlocked a secret passage but, only a few were allowed to go in One patron raised his hand but, was ignored. Spoiler Alert ?

The Fire of Troy with Aeneas Carrying Anchises. Found in the collection of Nationalmuseum Stockholm. FINE ART IMAGES/HERITAGE IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES 

Finally, I tried just exploring the set and stumbling on different set pieces – a fight between a married couple in a kitchen (with zero dialogue) was as tense as any moment in any theatre. In this context, your fellow audience members become part of the experience. Everyone is masked and talking is limited. In this context running into a masked fellow theatregoer at the end of a dark hallway is just as unnerving as being locked into a room.

The Burnt City stays with you for a while and my perceptions of it have only increased with time and leave you wanting to know what Punch-Drunk dreams up next.

Edited by Rachmad Imam Tarecha and Joseph Hammond

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