The Gunpowder Plot at the Tower of London: an ‘exhilarating’ new experience

This ‘camply thrilling’ adventure sets the ‘gold standard’ for immersive shows

Audience members with VR headsets
Audience members during one of the VR episodes
(Image credit: The Gunpowder Plot)

Created by Layered Reality in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, The Gunpowder Plot is an “exhilarating” new immersive experience that takes place in the “vividly evocative” setting of the Tower of London Vaults, said Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times.

The year is 1605, and – aided by 20 actors, and stunning projections, lighting and sound – the audience is plunged into a “treacherous realm”, in which “Protestants and Catholics are teetering at the brink of savage religious war”. Will we side with Guy Fawkes’s radical cell of persecuted Catholics, plotting a terrorist atrocity in Westminster? Or will we betray these impassioned activists, in order to save untold lives? There are three “mesmerising VR moments”, but just as thrilling is being drawn by the actors into the role-play, as they scheme and scamper through the London of four centuries ago.

The actors playing the assorted plotters, spies, double agents and upholders of the crown do an excellent job, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. And racing with them through “dimly lit tunnels, with dripping taps, explosive sounds and smoky corridors is quite the adventure”.

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But what works less well is the evening’s dramatic structure. Whether violence can ever be politically justified is obviously a valid and still pertinent question; but since the outcome is fixed (spoiler alert: the plot was foiled), encouraging us to take sides seems a bit pointless. And the VR episodes don’t fit coherently into the drama. Why, for example, are we on a boat that then seems to take to the air and fly, oars and all? “And why are we floating over a burning city?”

I found the whole experience a “hoot”, said Andrzej Lukowski on Time Out. One of the VR set-pieces involves zip-wiring out of the Tower and over the Thames. “It’s preposterous, of course, but camply thrilling, with glorious 360-degree panoramas of the London of 400 years ago.” There may come a time when there are more of these “megabucks immersive shows” in London than there are stage musicals; if so, The Gunpowder Plot has set the “gold standard” for them.

Tower of London Vaults, EC3 ( Until 4 September

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