Sleep No More - Annie Darcy Band
Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More – a take on Macbeth – has played in London, Boston and New York City (photo of the Boston production by Erich via Creative Commons)

Immersive theatre company Punchdrunk is aiming to open its doors in Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal next spring, councillors will be told next week.

The company, which stages hugely popular productions where audience are members free to wander around and take part in the shows, will move into Buildings 17, 18 and 19 – centred on the old Firepower museum and opposite the new Woolwich Works venue, which is due to open in September.

Punchdrunk is currently based in Tottenham, but is moving its UK operation to Woolwich under a five-year lease as part of Greenwich Council’s £31 million Woolwich Creative District project. The company’s productions have a large and loyal global following, and it has set up operations in New York City and Shanghai.

The town hall will receive rent including a share of Punchdrunk’s turnover, a report for the regeneration scrutiny panel’s meeting next Monday says, although no figures are given.

While there have been worries from councillors about the cost of the project – which has seen the council buying up historic buildings in the Royal Arsenal and converting them into performance venues – the town hall insists the creative district will be a “game-changer” for the area, saying 400 jobs would be created. Before the pandemic, it was estimated visitor income in Woolwich could double from £17.5 million in 2016 to £35.9 million next year.

Last week, James Heaton, the chief executive of Woolwich Works, said that the venue would not require ongoing funding from the council. The report says that Woolwich Works will be charged a peppercorn rent for the use of buildings 40 and 41, which were formerly home to the Greenwich Heritage Centre.

An ancient tunnel was found under the floor of Punchdrunk’s building 19 during its refurbishment, the report says, while “buried structures” were found underneath Woolwich Works, dating back to its use as a cartridge factory.

Tickets for the first shows at Woolwich Works went on sale last week, including a solo concert by Shingai Shoniwa, the Lewisham-born singer with the band Noisettes, acid jazz pioneer Bukky Leo and comedy from Sara Pascoe.

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