Review: PHANTOM PEAK: FESTIVAL OF INNOVATION, London

The ever-excellent Phantom Peak's new season dishes up more immersive delights.

By: Apr. 10, 2024
Review: PHANTOM PEAK: FESTIVAL OF INNOVATION, London
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Review: PHANTOM PEAK: FESTIVAL OF INNOVATION, London When Phantom Peak, one of London's most innovative and ridiculously fun theatrical experiences, holds a Festival Of Innovation, how can one say no? It is not the only impressive immersive show in town but its near-peerless execution and boundless imagination puts it up there with the more well known Punchdrunk.

Review: PHANTOM PEAK: FESTIVAL OF INNOVATION, London
Photo credit: Alistair Veryard

The latter’s last flagpole production The Burnt City was a truly immense creation which attracted tens of thousands and inspired the likes of Bacchanalia (their much smaller follow-up Viola’s Room opens next month). Although not quite on the same scale, Phantom Peak has a very different and refreshing vibe across both its indoor and outdoor spaces.

Since opening in 2022, it has garnered a faithful following and celebrity fans like Neil Patrick Harris. Every three months, a new season is announced with around ten new missions (or “trails”) through which visitors can dig deep into this cyberpunk-slash-Western frontier town’s history and discover the hidden plots behind murders, missing persons and more humorously mundane matters. When not following up on clues, they can play arcade games, order food from the robo-chef manned by Notorious BRG, grab a drink from the indoor saloon or outdoor bar or take photos of the huge platypus. The trails themselves each take around one to two hours to solve before adventurers are rewarded with a little souvenir to take home. 

While previous seasons have given guests the chance to join a spooky séance and play charades with Father Platmus, this latest episode brings some new robotic additions to fit the “Innovation” theme. My favourite is the “Clacky” machine which you will need to interrogate in some form for half of this season’s trails. It is something between a demonic Clippy and a daffy take on ChatGPT; whatever you ask it, it will either not understand or throw up cheeky and bizarre animations designed to confuse and consternate (in a good way). The technology around the venue is also generally smoother and there are some tasty additions to the food and cocktail menus.

Review: PHANTOM PEAK: FESTIVAL OF INNOVATION, London
Photo credit: Alistair Veryard

The Burnt City was arguably something of a failure for Punchdrunk from both a financial and artistic perspective. The latest accounts showed that, despite it helping group income increase tenfold, the company’s losses almost quadrupled to around £4m. Critics and punters alike bemoaned that there was not enough drama to fill its impressively large new home. That theatrical imbalance ultimately created a sense of disconnection which is definitely not an accusation that can be levelled at Phantom Peak: whether on a trail or not, there are plenty of rooms to be explored, a lake to walk around and a raft of evocative character actors happy to help you out on a trail or just natter for a while.

Step into Doc Winter’s lab for a lovingly brutal tongue lashing, peer beyond this realm in Spectre & Vox’s paranormal detective agency and then catch up with the ever-endearing Littlefield in his post office. Spend time on side quests like platyhooks where one can fish platypi out of the lake, play custom-made computer games, throw balls at targets in the fairground area, walk through a creepy graveyard or take part in an exercise class in the Old Town. It is very, very hard to be bored in this place.

Review: PHANTOM PEAK: FESTIVAL OF INNOVATION, London
Photo credit: Alistair Veryard

The whole aesthetic and ethos of The Burnt City is flipped on its head by creative director Nick Moran and his team. Instead of wandering around the sparse, dim mazes of Troy and Mycenae, here everything is brightly lit and filled with distractions. Instead of waiting for those very rare one-on-one interactions with Agamemnon and co, characters here are very open and welcoming. Punchdrunk's multi-layered, dense and abstract approach is reflected here in a multi-layered experience with cross-season character arcs, engaging storylines and a very British sense of humour. It encourages and rewards exploration and playing around in a way that speaks to inner children and actual children and there is a genuine satisfaction gained whenever one trail’s mystery is resolved and we start on another.

Phantom Peak is every bit as enjoyable as anything Punchdrunk has pushed out in the decade since The Drowned Man closed and quite why it isn’t lauded on the same scale is probably its own biggest mystery.

Phantom Peak: Festival Of Innovation continues until 5 May.

Photo credit: Alistair Veryard




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