By Arachne


I was certain that one of the three of us would get Covid in time to stymie today but it didn't happen so we made our way to the new Punchdrunk HQ in Woolwich for a preview performance of their latest immersive show: Burnt City, a drama about the war between the Greeks and the Trojans with chillingly timely echoes.

We queued, we had our phones locked away in little pouches, we walked through a museum prefiguring what was to come then we crept between the tents of Heinrich Schliemann and his fellow archaeologists, stopping to read postcards and notes by candlelight. We emerged in Mycenae just as Agamemnon was about to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to ensure his success in battle against the Trojans. Brutal, noisy, confusing, dark. Some of the white-masked audience followed Agamemnon as he ran off - to war, I assumed. We three, trying not to lose each other, followed Iphigenia into Hades. 

We emerged, without maps or guides, and started to explore some of the many rooms we came across: a bedroom, a sculptor's workshop, a dingy kitchen, all full of artefacts and writings. We could have immersed ourselves in the many sets but having been to previous Punchdrunk performances, we knew we'd enjoy it more if we followed the actors. 

Punchdrunk ensures that audience members arrive at different times and the action recurs. Thus we found ourselves back in time watching Iphigenia expecting to be married, realising what is to happen and being led off to her sacrifice. This time we watched the wild grief of Clytemnestra, her mother. We watched Clytemnestra and Aegisthus plotting to kill Agamemnon and reading the bloody entrails. We watched a bejewelled Agamemnon return from war and Clytemnestra welcoming him before taking her revenge and murdering him in the shower. This time it was Agamemnon we followed into Hades.

Having watched this part of the story from three different perspectives, we went in search of Troy and found a smaller scale place, less Spartan. We watched an altercation and reconciliation between two people in a small bar off a town square, we saw a party going on, another killing.

I was sure that somewhere we would find a horse but we didn't. After over three hours we were gradually ushered into the real bar, relieved of our white masks, given access to our phones and tipped out into late afternoon sunlight. 

The only photos of what goes on inside are the official ones. I took this afterwards as we sat talking.

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