Punchdrunk: Viola's Room
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: The Carriageworks, London

An audio-driven journey through a moonlit fever dream. 

Barefoot and wearing headphones, audiences feel their way through a labyrinthine installation as an unseen narrator reveals a story of innocence lost and obsession unleashed.

Written by Booker Prize-shortlisted Daisy Johnson, and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, Viola’s Room reimagines a classic gothic mystery for a new audience. It distils two decades of Punchdrunk’s immersive practice into an intimate sensory adventure that promises to infuse the dreams of anyone who dares to follow the light.

With Viola's Room, Punchdrunk have created a feast for the senses; an experience that's both claustrophobic and dark, in every sense of the word. What starts as a fantastical bedtime story narrated by national treasure, Helena Bonham Carter, fast becomes a descent into an unimaginable nightmare.

Viola's Room is based on the short story, The Moon Slave by Barry Pain, written back in 1901 as part of the Stories in the Dark collection. It follows Princess Viola as she is set to wed the dashing Prince Hugo. After exploring the palace grounds one evening she finds herself in the centre of a maze with a foreboding tree at its heart. She finds herself unable to stop herself from dancing and each month she's drawn back to the centre of the maze, where she seems to be losing more of her control each time. Her hopelessness becomes more feverish as she delves deeper into the physical and metaphorical labyrinth of the story.

You enter the experience barefoot with very few instructions except to always follow the light. As you're barefoot you can expect to feel many textures on your feet correlating to the story which adds to the immersion massively and is such a unique experience. Armed with headphones, you're lead through many ways of movement, from crawling, laying down, squeezing through, sitting - you're never in one location for very long!

Helena Bonham Carter is a massive pull to this experience and she truly does have the perfect voice for this audio driven adventure. She provides the ideal blend of mysteriousness and apprehension to her storytelling, and the familiarity of her voice is almost soothing at times. The instantly recognisable, "A Conversation With Death", from Khemmis makes an appearance which is always welcomed as it features in so many iconic games, TV shows and films. The soundtrack is epic and really added to the drama of the storytelling, as well as differing volumes throughout and in specific ears. Gareth Fry does a simply excellent job with the sound design.

The sheer size of this experience can feel overwhelming, it's like a Tardis in there! Felix Barrett Casey and Jay Andrews have worked wonders on the design of Viola's Room. I was particularly in awe of the multiple rooms with trees and the visual effects are stunning, with lighting design by Simon Wilkinson. As the story becomes more desperate, the space physically and metaphorically becomes smaller and you can almost taste the fear that Viola is experiencing. It's also worth mentioning that the attention to detail is phenomenal. I loved the references to horror pop culture such as The Craft, Hocus Pocus, Labyrinth, Goosebumps and Point Horror. It's very 90's driven which made Viola's bedroom eerily similar to my own growing up.

I understand that claustrophobia is a huge part of the story, but I don't feel as though there's enough warning about this. I'm not a claustrophobic person in any way, but there were parts that I felt overwhelmed with both the lack of space and the darkness. Groups have a cap of six people, however, we were a group of four and at times, it felt extremely cramped. I would also advise reading the short story first, which is easily accessible online. This enabled me to embrace the experience with open arms.

Viola's Room is yet another ground-breaking experience from Punchdrunk. Palpitation-inducing and invokes feelings of terror and an almost maniacal fear, with non-stop mystery and intrigue throughout. A production you really need to enter with an open mind to get the most out of. 

You can book tickets to Viola's Room at The Carriageworks, here.

**photo credit: Julian Abrams**

No comments