The Gunpowder Plot is an immersive experience based on Guy Fawkes’ infamous attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. History comes to life as participants are taken back to 1605, and it’s time to ignite your imagination.
Waiting in the smoky restaurant and bar area beneath the Tower Hill Vaults, anticipation builds as groups enter the experience. The lights around the barrels glow blue and my group is ushered into the first ante-chamber, where the scene is set by one of the hosting team. What follows is a journey back in time where we are no longer an audience: we are co-conspirators with an important decision to make.
We meet characters from both sides of the plot, Catholics and Protestants – many based on real people, with great costumes designed by Tahra Zafar. The performers give us information and opinions, seeking to sway our decision. We move from elaborately decorated rooms, down corridors and up and down staircases. There are also some 360 degree virtual reality experiences (created by Simon Reveley of Figment Productions) which vividly propel us through our journey in London on 4 and 5 November 1605.
Along the way we stop at The Duck and Drake tavern, a place to make a collective decision whether or not to support the conspiracy, and also to have a drink: the house cocktail rather appropriately ‘blew my head off’! Nevertheless a decision was made and this informed the course of what happened next.
This experience has a rotating cast with a virtual appearance from Tom Felton. The actors I journeyed with gave outstanding performances. The only wrinkle in my experience was during the showdown underneath the Houses of Parliament. We had the voice of Felton with an actor playing his character, wearing a scarf over the lower part of his face. The actor gesticulated with great aplomb but the voice, coming through speakers around us, felt disconnected and for a moment I was shaken out of the drama of the unfolding events. That being said, I otherwise enjoyed every minute of my journey.
This could have been a procedural experience where we were encouraged to ‘push this’ and ‘lift that’, working a mechanism of apparent choices. Instead there were moments of true interaction and great ad-libs from the cast. There were also instances of up close and personal drama, which were at times uncomfortable. Additionally, we had the opportunity to choose our own ending, and this was cleverly woven into our experience. The virtual reality sequences added further depth to the world we were passing through, and even generated a few screams from my fellow travellers.
What impressed me most was the level of performance each actor gave us. My entry point was at 5:20pm and I can only imagine how many times they would have performed the same scene throughout the day, but for me it was fresh, energetic, dramatic and a lot of fun. Bravo to you all!
The closing scenes and prologue of the experience poses questions and talks about the legacy of the plot and of Guy Fawkes himself. A ghostly figure of Fawkes looks at how this event has been remembered throughout the centuries and we walk away with things to discuss and mull over; events that happened over 400 years ago still resonating with today.
I would highly recommend you visit this experience in a wonderful historic setting, with an outstanding cast. If your children can cope with a bit of mild peril, loud bangs, the dark and a bit of swearing, then bring them along too – so much better than any history lesson in school!
Story developed by Rosie Jones, Hannah Price and Danny Robins.
Written by Danny Robins
VR and filmed content directed by Simon Reveley
Lighting designed by Robbie Butler
Music and Sound designed by Adrienne Quartly
Costumes designed by Tahra Zafar
Fight sequences directed by Kevin McCurdy
Production by Layered Reality and Historic Royal Palaces
Produced by Martin Heap and Tim Powell
The Gunpowder Plot is playing at Tower Hill Vaults. It is currently booking until March 2024. Further information and bookings can be found here.