Wednesday, January 19

Punchdrunk to Present Epic ‘Future Noir’ Drama at London’s Old Arms Factory | Punch Drunk

The immersive theater company Punchdrunk, famous for creating labyrinthine adventures in atmospheric locations, will undertake its most expensive and ambitious project to date with a retelling of the “future noir” of the fall of Troy.

The Burnt City will be held in cavernous buildings at the company’s new headquarters in Woolwich Works, a creative hub on the historic site of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, southeast London. Some 600 viewers at a time will have free rein to walk the contrasting ancient worlds of Troy and Mycenae, each with a dystopian sci-fi twist, where they will encounter gods, monsters, and perhaps a secret passage or two on a path of three. afternoon time.

The show has been 10 years in the making, its co-directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle told The Guardian on a tour of a former Grade II listed munitions factory soon to host Troy’s world. The Burnt City will start off as what looks like an “elegant museum tour,” Barrett said, before visitors immerse themselves in a neon-lit Troy that has been remodeled under the influence of Fritz Lang’s classic silent film, Metropolis. .

Audiences can choose to sip a potion inspired by the traditional Greek drink kykeon before exploring alleys, palaces, a hotel and an opera house, all of which will be built over the next six months. Mycenae, with a somewhat scantier aesthetic, will be created in an adjacent building on a similar scale. A cast of around three dozen will perform in the two worlds. “The scale of this project is epic,” said Doyle.

Maxine Doyle and Felix Barrett outside Punchdrunk's new headquarters in Woolwich.
“We were nomads for many years”… Maxine Doyle and Felix Barrett outside Punchdrunk’s new headquarters in Woolwich, southeast London. Photography: Julian Abrams

Theatergoers have grown accustomed to covering their faces and keeping their distance during the pandemic, but both have featured as key ingredients of Punchdrunk experiences for many years. For his latest big show, The Drowned Man (2013), audiences wore masks and wandered through a former sorting office in Paddington, the floors of which were transformed into a Hollywood studio, a spooky desert, and other memorable locations designed in astonishing detail. The Burnt City will unfold over 100,000 square feet (9,290 square meters), giving visitors plenty of space, and this time the masks, which will be designed by Punchdrunk and delivered to audience members, will be for Covid protection. and to add to the atmosphere.

The sets, costumes and accessories will be made at the Woolwich Works, whose other resident arts organizations include Chineke! Orchestra, the Luca Silvestrini Protein dance-theater company and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Woolwich Works opens for public performances on September 23. The Burnt City begins in March, with tickets on sale starting Wednesday.

Inside one of the buildings that will house The Burnt City.
Inside one of the buildings that will house The Burnt City. Photography: Julian Abrams

Barrett and Doyle explored Woolwich 20 years ago when looking for locations to host the first Punchdrunk productions, but the sheer scale of the buildings outweighed their possibilities. Since then, they have created specific shows for different buildings, achieving great success in Shanghai and New York with the Macbeth-inspired production Sleep No More, but they have not had a permanent artistic base as such. “We were nomads for many years,” Barrett said.

In Woolwich, Punchdrunk intends to provide more than 100 jobs for the local community, including creative and operational roles, and collaborate with local artists.

Eighteen months after arts venues were first closed due to Covid, theaters continue to navigate the risks of performing during a pandemic. Punchdrunk, which received a £ 240,000 grant from the government’s culture recovery fund, has partnered with Porsche to present The Burnt City. The company has also learned lessons from the closure and then the reopening of Sleep No More in Shanghai, where it is now performing before an audience at full capacity once again.

The nature of the company’s work has always made it more malleable than staging traditional plays, said Barrett, adding that while it felt “hairy” to embark on a new production, it was nonetheless exhilarating.

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