The Burnt City: stunning but elusive take on Trojan War

Punchdrunk's The Burnt City. Performers Andrea Carrucciu and Dafni Krazoudi

Punchdrunk's The Burnt City. Performers Andrea Carrucciu and Dafni Krazoudi - Credit: Julian Abrams

The sheer scale and intricacy of Punchdrunk's immersive promenade shows are, by definition, a highly individual, fragmentary experience.

You either go with that flow and explore the lovingly dressed sets, stumbling on a plot twist, or lone character staring into space, or, tense with FOMO, hunt for characters among the labyrinthine rooms desperate not to miss a set piece that will help you make sense of it all.

I'm possibly the wrong temperament, because I often come away frustrated but wowed by the concept and visuals.

Eight years since their last London show, they bring the Trojan War to their vast new home at Woolwich Arsenal. The Burnt City is strong as ever on atmospherics, portentous throbbing underscore, evocative lighting, Felix Barrett's obsessively detailed sets, and Maxine Doyle's sexy choreography. But as a dramatic experience it's more wearying and elusive than moving.

Working in mime and dance theatre, Punchdrunk loves a striking, bloody image. Past shows have raided Woyzeck and Macbeth as sources. Here, figures such as Clytemnestra bent on avenging her murdered daughter, or Hecuba blinding Polymestor for her son's murder, are a chance to go to town with the pain and gore.

The Burnt City

Yilin Kong in Punchdrunk's The Burnt City - Credit: Julian Abrams

Couched as a museum tour, a pre-show introduction about Heinrich Schliemann's 19th Century excavation of Troy proves a confusing red herring, as we enter a sci-fi/early 20th century evocation of the city's neon-lit bars, sleazy hotels and just abandoned rooms.

A cavernous second space, dressed with desert tents and a long concrete runway, represents Greece and Agamemnon's Palace. Most of the big set pieces happen here; a child bride sacrificed atop a tank trap, a seduction over a bloody feast of gizzards, a whirling finale of dancers under blinding lights.

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I caught the odd magic; a twitchy dance between a Trojan woman and a Greek; a body dragged through a doorway on a plastic sheet; a woman strung up by her feet. But too often I was opening doors to empty rooms.

Punchdrunk's The Burnt City.

Yilin Kong and Steven James Apicello - Credit: Julian Abrams

Luckily there's a lively bar with brilliant singers and cabaret performers to rest your wary feet and compare notes about what you missed.

Standard tickets priced £89.50 VIP tickets £96.50 Visit theburntcity.seetickets.com