Tower Vaults, Tower of London (venue)
10 June 2022 (released)
10 June 2022
Blending cutting-edge tech and immersive theatrical storytelling below the Tower of London, The Gunpowder Plot brings to vivid life one of the most famous episodes in British history.
Who was Guy Fawkes? Was he a Catholic terrorist, hellbent on blowing up Parliament and King James I as well as hundreds of innocent lives? Was he a freedom fighter driven to mass violence after seeing friends and family killed and imprisoned due to their religion? Or was he a fall guy for the machinations of Protestant spymaster Lord Robert Cecil in order to whip up hatred and suspicion of Catholics?
The Gunpowder Plot puts all three views into the mix as we are taken on an adventure through a purpose-built building just outside the Tower, going from room to room and (through headsets) into a virtual reality. Over the almost 2-hour running time, we meet characters on both sides of the struggle including a runaway priest, a gender-swapped Lady Cecil and a digitised Tom Felton (Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy) as Guy Fawkes. For the most part, there’s a snappy pace and a variety of experiences from poring over codes to hiding in pitch-dark cupboards.
Produced by Historical Royal Palaces in collaboration with Layered Reality, this is an exciting show with plenty of twists and turns before Fawkes and his friends meet their fate. The production and sound design (by Tim McQuillen-Wright and Adrienne Quartly respectively) add immense levels of atmosphere even if the show as a whole never feels truly immersive.
Writer Danny Robins scored a hit last year with his schlocky 2.22 - A Ghost Story and continues his streak of never-knowingly-understated drama with an insightful take on a well-worn story. The dialogue is spry for the most part but its contemporariness jars with the period costumes and environment, it is often hammy and we never really get under the skin of the many people we meet (either in the flesh or VR).
If this show goes on to be the next big London attraction, it will have Hannah Price’s direction to thank to a large extent: even when Robins’ text falls flat, she injects each scene with genuine atmosphere and keeps us on our toes throughout. The VR technology is a cool feature but its use pales in comparison to recent shows like Le Bal de Paris; the three virtual reality episodes here are a fun but not fundamental part of The Gunpowder Plot. Those looking for a more immersive experience would be encouraged to check out Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City (running until December in Woolwich).
The Gunpowder Plot continues at the Tower Hills Vaults.