So, you think you know the story of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot? But how well do you really know it? Have you really immersed yourself in it? Touched it? Smelled it? Well now you can, with The Gunpowder Plot experience in London’s Tower Vaults.
In this immersive experience, featuring performances by live actors, and virtual reality segments, visitors are taken back to 1605. There they witness the intricacies of the Catholic plot to destroy Britain’s government and monarchy in one fell swoop. A plot that, if successful, would allow them to put a puppet princess in place who would be more sympathetic to their religions and aims.
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The Gunpowder Plot is brought to us courtesy of a partnership between Historic Royal Palaces and Layered Reality, who were also responsible for SOMNAI and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Experience. This is not their first rodeo, and they’ve produced a slick, polished, and practiced event for visitors to enjoy. The plot is simple. You and the others in your group play the part of Catholic dissidents, locked up in the Tower before your inevitable hanging, drawing and quartering.
But rather than being left to contemplate your fate and maybe count how many drops of water it takes to fill the bucket in your cell, you find yourself swept up in a prison break. From there it’s a whirlwind of plots, schemes, running, hiding, and the occasional gunfight, all culminating in that final confrontation in the vaults beneath Westminster. Once the experience ends you are ultimately left to make your own mind up about Guy Fawkes. Was he a hero, standing up for oppressed Catholics? Or simply a villain who wanted to punish Protestants as they had punished his people? As they say, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
The performances from the cast are all uniformly great, with everyone totally committing to the roles and really making you feel part of the events, even asking visitors to join in with things from time to time; knocking on doors, listening for pursuit, or even carrying barrels of gunpowder! One of the big selling points in the marketing materials is that Guy Fawkes is played by Tom Felton, known to most folks for his time playing slimy little shit Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. He shows up performing the parts in the VR segments, and isn’t there for every live performance, so if you’re booking tickets in the hope you’ll get to see him, you might end up disappointed!
On top of the cast, you have the sets themselves that really add to the atmosphere. The experience is dingy and grimy in just the right way, and the air is thick with the sounds of ye olde London towne. Though if you’re asthmatic, have mobility problems (they do offer specific wheelchair accessible performances), or are afraid of the dark or enclosed spaces, this might not be the experience for you. It can get physical, and being staged in the London vaults, it’s all enclosed and rather cramped in places. In fact, the first thing you do after presenting your ticket at the front desk is fill out a waiver that contains a rather impressively long list of conditions that they warn the event might not be suitable for.
The event runs until the end of March 2023, so there’s plenty of time to try it for yourself, but it’s not a cheap day out by any means. The event runs 1hr and 40 minutes, with a 20 minute interval in the middle. Prices range from £40-£50 per person for a standard ticket (£30-£40 for those aged 12-16), which just gets you access to the event, and up to £110 for a VIP ticket which also includes food, drink, merch and photos. For a family of four, you’re easily looking at spending nearly £200 depending on which slot you book, even with discounts.
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There were also some niggles with the venue that were disappointing to see, as they could be so easily fixed if just a bit more care was taken. The locker system is a little confusing, and more than a few of them seemed to be broken. There were also multiple instances of toilets running out of soap and toilet roll on the day we visited. They’re hardly deal-breakers, but when visitors are paying so much money for their tickets, you would hope these little details would be taken care of.
Minor venue complaints aside, The Gunpowder Plot is a great time. Layered Reality have given us a skilfully executed blend of drama and history, delivered by a cast who really get into the roles and encourage visitors to come along with them in this journey back into one of the most infamous moments in British history. Although expensive, we think it’s well worth the time and the money. Make sure you add it to your list of places to visit the next time you’re in London!
The Gunpowder Plot runs until 31st March 2023.