Yilin Kong in ‘The Burnt City,’ photo by Julian Abrams.
By Billy McEntee
With casts changing nightly and characters flitting about, it can be difficult to articulate the experience of a Punchdrunk show — and in their works’ mysterious settings, secrets abound.
If you have any knowledge of Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s immersive hit that’s blossomed into a New York staple, the beats of the company’s newest show, The Burnt City, now playing at a warehouse-like venue in London, will ring familiar. There’s lots of space, lots of darkness, and lots of paths to take.
While the McKittrick Hotel in New York is sprawling in its verticality as audiences dash up five or so floors of intrigue and murder, One Cartridge Place, home to The Burnt City, is expansive in its horizontality. Each venue is emblematic of the architectural offerings of Chelsea, New York and Woolwich, London — and while that Big Apple show takes its title and narrative gestures from Macbeth, The Burnt City, directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, is inspired by the fall of Troy.
Those aware of Greek gods and war may be both better informed and worse off. Yes, knowing Agamemnon, his family, and crimes may aid, but they also may disappoint. Characters aren’t formally introduced, which can make the storyline, if there is one in this dialogue-less work, murky. It also broadens the appeal: speaking English is no requirement to appreciate the synchronized wonders of a Punchdrunk show — characters (sometimes literally) bleed from one room into the next, interrupting and inspiring scenes. Speaking English is no requirement; great curiosity is.
It’s actors you follow, literally, not the plot. In the rubble of Troy — beautifully designed by Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan, and Beatric Minns — there are aristocrats and military leaders and ingenues and lovers, and those tropes are enough to carve out a tale. It makes for an enthralling experience as audiences walk through sand in one room and spill into a fully realized domestic kitchen in the next, with plenty of pockets you’re sure to miss even as you explore One Cartridge Place for three hours. Should you lose your way, there’s a cozy bar with a chanteuse waiting to beguile you and keep you for a minute — or send you back into the cavernous maze.
Sleep No More
Now playing at One Catridge Place
Visit the website for tickets and more