Terrific Time Travel Back to 1605
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match”
I have seen Punchdrunk’s productions since they started with Faust in 2007 but this is my first time with Layered Reality where they combine the experience using live actors with the use of Virtual Reality. We are taken back to the year 1605 and a nation where Catholics are persecuted and forbidden to get married in their church, baptise their babies and bury their dead. James I has gone back on his promise of leniency for Catholics and he has been on the throne for two years.
In the Tower of London Vaults at the specified time a small group of 16 starts their tour by being thrown into the Tower and meeting William, a Catholic man being held in the Tower as a prisoner and tortured.
We see him visited by his sister and are told that we will be sent undercover. But first we have to escape from the Tower. We are led out in silence and secrecy.
The first VR is on a swing as we are swung over London on a zipwire to escape the Tower. I loved it, found it exciting as I swayed above looking down at my little legs with feet in period buckled shoes. The professionalism of the filming is exquisite, London 400 years ago, showing us London Bridge, the one that is falling down in the children’s nursery rhyme because there were many houses either side. There are lights in the windows. We are operating by candle light along corridors lined by ancient stone into timbered framed rooms.
There is a huge explosion. We meet Lady Cecil, a daughter of Robert Cecil, Elizabeth I’s Spymaster and now James Stuart’s chief of spies who wants to recruit us as agents on behalf of the king. We meet and are given a message in code used by the plotters. We have two letters but someone in our group is really fast and gets the whole message almost immediately.
We go to Lady Anne’s house and hide there in a priest hole from soldiers searching for Catholics. The sound system has authentic marching and the clanging of heavy doors. I felt the frisson of a fugitive as we were almost captured. Later we get in boat to take gunpowder across the river with Guy Fawkes (Tom Felton) guiding us as a large ship comes towards us. We have been given cloaks with hoods to hide in the darkness and Guy Fawkes’s earnestness is infectious.
We are given an interval in a tavern with stone tankards and asked to decide whether we will support the plotters with the potential carnage to the great and the good, Protestants all, and the surrounding area, or to reject this early form of terrorism and side with the King’s Men and Lady Cecil.
Later we see the London skyline with the stars twinkling above and look into the chamber at Parliament overlooking the river.
This was an outstanding piece of theatre for me, so well organised and created by writer Danny Adams, Creative Director Hannah Price and Simon Reveley’s award winning VR company, Figment Productions. Also I didn’t find anything inaccurate from my knowledge of that period of history, except perhaps Cecil being a woman. Gender free casting trumps historical accuracy!
You will be asked to sign a waiver on entry.
If you want to eat beforehand or have paid to eat and drink, go at least an hour and a half early as it takes time to prepare the food freshly and the kitchen gets very busy. The food isn’t historical but delicious loaded fries and burgers.
I enjoyed this unique immersive experience so much I am going to award it five stars from Theatrevibe, the site that doesn’t do stars!
The Gunpowder Plot
Written by Danny Robins
Directed by Hannah Price
Harriet Sharmini Smithers
Director : Hannah Price
Set Designer: Tim McQuillen-Wright
Costume Designer: Tahra Zafar
Composer and Sound Designer: Adrienne Quartly
Lighting Designer: Robbie Butler
VR Design: Simon Reveley for Figment Productions
Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
Producers: Historic Royal Palaces and Layered Reality
Running Time: One hour 40 minutes with an interval in the Duck and Drake Tavern
Booking to 31st March 2023
8-12 Tower Hill Vaults
Tube Tower Hill
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the
at the Tower of London Vaults
on 5th November 2022