Reviews Roundup: Punchdrunk’s Viola’s Room

One Cartridge Place, Woolwich

Punchdrunk’s Viola’s Room. Photo: Julian Abrams

After the scale and complexity of The Burnt City, Punchdrunk are back with a more intimate immersion piece in which the audience are led six at a time through a series of rooms listening to a story narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter, and there are no live actors. Co-directed by Felix Barrett and Hector Harkness, it tells of a search for a doomed teenage princess.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

The Guardian‘s Arifa Akbar (5★) loved it: ‘it inspires so much puzzling wonder that you want to go straight back in to find other undisturbed paths in the search for Viola.’ She explained that it ‘hovers delicately between bedtime story, fairytale, children’s game and nightmare…The story does not follow rational logic but turns into a weird kind of liminal babble dealing in unnameable fear, and you feel it as you travel through ever darker, narrower spaces.’

Andrjez Lukowski at Time Out (4★) was impressed: By its climax I felt like a character in a horror film, not least because of the tremendous soundtrack relayed by Gareth Fry’s extraordinary sound design…It might be short, but in those 45 minutes you’ll live a haunted lifetime.’

For Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph (4★), ‘it cast a simple, singular spell. Like Viola, I couldn’t quite bear to tear myself away; and in surrendering to feeling lost there lies an intoxicating sense of self-discovery.’ The Stage‘s Sam Marlowe (4★) said, ‘this is a beautifully wrought enchantment that skilfully blends the exquisite and the sinister.’

Anna James at WhatsOnStage (4★) praised ‘Impeccable design, labyrinths both literal and figurative, and a deep fascination with storytelling, intimacy and ritual maintain that ineffable Punchdrunk feel.’ The Observer‘s Susannah Clapp (4★) concluded: ‘Though often exquisite, sometimes apparently folkloric, Viola’s Room is sophisticated in its paradoxes. Its story is about compulsion and loss of control, yet this is the show in which Punchdrunk has most evidently controlled its own audience.’

Franco Milazzo reviewing for BroadwayWorld (3★) decided that, compared with The Burnt City, ‘Viola’s Room is overall a tighter work which offers a far more cohesive theatrical experience but, unlike many of the Punchdrunk productions before it, does not have enough wow factor to justify a second viewing.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (3★) was underwhelmed. ‘Visually and atmospherically, it’s a work of rich detail, executed with elan…Unfortunately the story itself, by Booker-shortlisted novelist Daisy Johnson, is a thin, by-the-numbers assemblage of darkly symbolic fairytale tropes with a sensual modern topspin.’

The Times‘ Clive Davis (3★) was blunt in his response: ‘It’s pointless, I suppose, expecting much in the way of substance: Punchdrunk, you see, are masters of visual muzak. Viola’s Room resembles a fairground ghost train for hipsters, only there’s no train.’ Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times  summed up, ‘Fabulous trimmings, needs more meat.’

George Simpson for The Express (3★) said, ‘Punchdrunk certainly lean into the sensory aspects of this piece over the substance of the narrative…It’s not for everyone, but if this is your bag you’ll get lost in wonder for 45 minutes.’

Fiona Mountford in the i (2★) was disappointed, ‘So underwhelmed was I by the whole set-up that I increasingly found myself longing to be frightened: anything for an enlivening dash of excitement…It’s an experience so evanescent as to leave barely any trace in our memory.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.4★

Viola’s Room can be seen at One Cartridge Place, Woolwich, until 20 August 2024. Buy tickets direct from punchdrunk.com

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