The Wood Beneath the World: Being led astray

Polly Checkland Harding

A new immersive theatre performance has opened beneath Leeds Town Hall – but is it as impressive as it sets out to be?

The Wood Beneath the World starts well. We are part of a small group, less than 15 people, each holding a ticket that looks like an old cinema stub. We have found our way through black gates tucked away to the side of Leeds Town Hall’s main steps and, at the end of a long, slightly stuffy corridor below ground level, we wait for the performance to start. We have been told that we will be taken into a world filled with secrets, via a pop-up forest that grows beneath the building.

At a little past the hour, a man in warden’s uniform appears, and leads us away beneath silvery heating pipes. He checks behind us, turns his torch into dark corners and speaks quietly about men who have been locked up down here. Again, he checks behind us. It feels as though we are being followed.

A world filled with secrets, a pop-up forest with growing beneath a building

What happens next fades from a genuine thrill into something far tamer and less involving than its introduction suggests. Part performance, part art installation, The Wood Beneath the World doesn’t fully commit to being either: there are only two characters, whose miniature narratives lose their way down some tenuous paths. The main feature, the wood itself, is beautiful but doesn’t provide enough visual distraction to make exploring satisfying in itself. You’re presented with the idea that this is also about an inward journey – the problem is that you find yourself mildly disappointed after such a promising start.

That said, the set you’re left to explore is rather lovely. Let go of the idea that it will be dotted with more than a couple of hidden spaces – or that there will be other actors, who will follow through on the threads of story you have set off with – and it can become quietly enjoyable to explore. Sink into strangeness, into a world beneath street level that’s better in reality than in description. Then emerge into the evening, holding onto a beautifully printed programme, and head for the pop-up bar. It’s cold and candle-lit, serving beer, cider and mulled wine in the town hall’s old cells. There are tables tucked into nooks you wouldn’t want to think about being locked away in. This is the bit that I’d go back for – to cup hot, homemade mulled wine and wonder pleasantly whether, in looking for a solid story, I’ve missed the point of this will-o’-the-wisp experience.

Planning a visit to The Wood Beneath the World? We recommend San Carlo Leeds for food.

Culture Guides


As we say bye to the summer holidays and begin to welcome in the cooler months, Manchester’s events and activities continue to bring joy and fun to families.

Kamila Shamsie. Photo Alex von Tunzelman


There are plenty of online readings and live launches as Manchester and the North welcomes some great writers with book festival season getting underway, and there are loads of new spoken word nights and open mics to check out…


Autumn’s a fine old time for gigs in Manchester and the North. From otherworldly folk to life-affirming soul, here are our top picks for October onwards.

Theatre in Manchester and the North


As the new theatre season gets ready to launch, we champion some of the star performances happening over the next few months.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester and the north.

Food and Drink

Explore the best restaurants and bars in Manchester and the North as we head into autumn.


David Bowie, Japanese classics and some early spooky screenings all feature in this month’s cinema guide.


Welcome the autumnal season with all of the art goodness that it brings – there are so many brand new exhibitions to see!

Tours and Activities

Every season change is an excuse to try something new, and when it comes to tours and activities, autumn delivers!