Viola’s Room | Punchdrunk | Review

Viola’s Room


Now booking until Sunday 18 August. Best availability currently from Tuesday 18 June.

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.

Viola’s Room is the newest addition to the London immersive scene, and Punchdrunk has once again pushed boundaries and the imagination with their creation. Prepare yourself for a chillingly intimate sensory journey that will engulf and manipulate your very being, driving you deep into a hypnotic realm that defies reality and perspective.

On Sunday 2nd June, Theatre South East was invited to experience Viola’s Room in Woolwich, East London. We had previously attended Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City, and hence expectations were high and excitement was rife. 

“Punchdrunk is a British theatre company, formed in 2000 by Felix Barrett, which disrupts the theatrical norm, creating worlds in which audiences can rediscover the childlike excitement of exploring the unknown. Whether it’s a VR experience, a TV show, or a musical performance, the uniting thread across all of the company’s work is the aim to leave audiences feeling punchdrunk: spinning, seeing stars, and intoxicated by the magic of a live experience.” 

** Spoilers Hereon **

Punchdrunk is globally recognized for their imaginative creative works, and Viola’s Room lives up to their prestigious reputation as their newest show. Viola’s Room is a highly captivating experience from beginning to end, a meticulously crafted masterpiece that guides participants through a deeply and holistically absorbing journey. 

From start to end, Viola’s Room felt like a polished and watertight journey. Punchdrunk’s genius decision to have participants ‘follow the light’ throughout the journey was a brilliant choice as it allowed for a seamless and immersive experience. You could sink into the story and be guided seamlessly through each tale twist and page turn. In comparison to the ‘pick your own adventure’ style of Punchdrunk’s last production, ‘The Burnt City’, I found I preferred the predetermined path of Viola’s Room, as I could focus more on the story and less on wayfinding (or accidentally walking out a fire exit).

Set design always plays a significant role in the immersive depth of Punchdrunk productions, and the returning collaboration of Felix Barrett MBE and the multi-award-winning Casey Jay Andrews built strong foundations for Viola’s Room. In an environment where senses were so heightened, the set design was instrumental in allowing you to experience Viola’s world on a more profound level, ultimately morphing your own consciousness with hers. The storytelling capabilities of the textures alone on set were astonishing, and surprisingly emotive. I have never been more nerve-wracked by coarse walls in my life! The use of colours, in the occasional lit scenes, too felt poignant and eerie, with red lights or wallpaper giving a sense of foreboding and vulnerability. 

The story itself was engrossingly entrancing. Written by Daisy Johnson, the youngest person ever to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and narrated by BAFTA-winning actor Helena Bonham Carter, Viola’s Room had a mesmerizingly poetic beauty to it, which sucked you in with no hesitation and threw you in every wild direction like a puppet master (or like a certain moonlit dance…). As someone who not only loved the Twelve Dancing Princesses as a child (especially the Barbie version!), but also has been a bit of a history buff researching the Dancing Plague of 1518 and the Chained Oak of Alton village, I felt as though the story of Viola’s Room really called out to me. Haunted forests, all-consuming addiction with a pinch of insanity – sign me up!

Special shoutout paragraph to Helena Bonham Carter. The perfect narrator for Viola’s Room! On multiple occasions I had shivers all over, with the hairs on my arms standing on end. Has she had the opportunity to do the experience herself, I wonder?

While apprehensive that it was only ‘an audio experience’, I can confirm Viola’s Room had me sprawled out on the bar area benches trying to return my heart rate to normal for a good 30 minutes. 

No matter how many posters or pamphlets pre-event inform you there are no jumpscares in the experience, I was in full fight or flight mode. There are many immersive experiences in London that claim to be ‘sensorially immersive’, and to an extent they are; Viola’s Room is on another level entirely. It is truly curious how darkness can make an experience so violently vivid.

Considering going to see it? We absolutely implore you to, and please do get in touch to let us know your thoughts!

PS. I would have loved an opportunity to purchase a printed version of the story to digest later on… guess I’ll have to go back!

Innocence lost and obsession unleashed.

Reviewer: Charlie O’Neill