The City They Burned

Robert Chuter

A powerful, classic tragedy with the kind of scope that has become all too rare.
The City They Burned

Image by Sarah Walker photography 

Given their consistency, there is a nice easiness involved when it comes to reviewing an Attic Erratic show: tight direction, limitless ambition, dynamic performances, soundscapes that haunt and epic themes wrapped in a moody and atmospheric package that tops the bar they set themselves previous, especially when directed by the fearless and masterful Danny Delahunty. 

The City They Burned takes the staging of their other recent reworking of an ancient myth - namely Purgatorio, and injects it with a steroid cocktail.


The tale of Sodom and Gomorrah needs no real introduction – Lot’s family are invited to stay at Sodom, when the local men demand Lot offer his male companions (disguised as angels) for sex, he instead offers his virgin daughters, whom the men refuse. The angels blind the ravenous locals to allow Lot and his family to escape before God destroys the city. Lot’s wife defies orders to look back at the city, and is turned to salt. As the remaining family members take refuge in a cave, Lot’s daughters take revenge on their father, ensuring the wheel of violence comes full circle.

Delahunty and writer Fleur Fitzpatrick have taken the site specific route and turned an abandoned Collingwood warehouse into a thrilling, emotional and atmospheric environment.

Where Purgatorio sat you according to whatever card you were allocated, here the audience is welcomed, much like Lot and his daughters, with finger food and wine while the actors intermingle with you in celebration. At the entrance of two suited inspectors, Woodworm (played by the wonderfully gripping Dushan Phillips) and Gadreel (the menacing Kane Felsinger), the celebrations turn south and the festive becomes tense and frightening.  How frightening? Ever been in a room where there is just been a fight and the tension still hangs in the air? That is the effect Delahunty and his great cast have created. The result? A dramatic and devastating first act.

In the second, we are led upstairs into the cave. With the space being more conventional and the writing being overwritten it dispels much of the suspense built up in the first act and becomes a little long. It thankfully pays off by building to a breathtaking tableau of grand oblivion.

Cast, across the board, are outstanding with the compelling Jessica Tanner stealing the show as the catatonic Ado especially in a scene where she is forced to sing in the corner as way of punishment – it is heartbreaking to watch as she struggles to hold onto any last shred of dignity she can throughout the ordeal - a surreal foreshadow to the rape yet to come. She is outstanding. 

Rob Sowinski's continues to amaze with a meticulous, inventive and atmospheric set and lighting design. Delahunty again demonstrates his control, guiding every element with perfection while Kilpatrick’s adaptation, despite the overwritten second act, is crisp and imaginative, bringing a fresh perspective and finding new dimensions in the classic myth.

The City They Burned is both disturbing and engaging and the perfect antidote to the bland ‘update genre’. It is a powerful, classic tragedy with the kind of scope that has become all too rare. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The City They Burned

Written by Fleur Kilpatrick
Directed by Danny Delahunty
Set and Lighting by Rob Sowinski
Presented by Attic Erratic

Cavern Table Performance Space, Collingwood
Melbourne Fringe Festival
3-23 September
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Robert Chuter is a Melbourne theatre and film director and who has given audiences over 250 +complex, controversial and visually rich productions to date. His debut feature, The Dream Children, was released internationally in 2015.