Pros: The aesthetic of The Soulless Ones, from the costume to the set design, is a triumph, and Hoxton Hall is an incredible venue. Also: cloaks.
Cons: Even for an immersive piece, the action is hard to follow; one wrong turn and you can find yourself out of it.
Prior to seeing The Soulless Ones I didn’t know that a house of vampires was called a ‘hive’. However, it did feel apt. Having read about this immersive theatre experience, I was absolutely buzzing (sorry), ready for a horrifying night of the golden three: fangs, blood and terror. I was especially excited as The Soulless Ones is produced and presented by Hammer Films, the iconic British production company who are, in the words of the show’s programme notes, the “undisputed masters of gothic horror.” Disappointingly, watching The Soulless Ones is not a particularly frightening experience, although I did find being an audience member a bit of a nightmare.
The evening started promisingly, with the 200-strong crowd gathered together in the magnificent auditorium of Hoxton Hall, all donning the natty black cloaks we’d been given on entry. A Dr Blythe (Stephen Fewell) introduced us to his world with a commanding opening address, along with the expected dosage of Latin incantations and strobe lighting, before sending us off to explore the many rooms of the hive.
Things started to unravel after this. I spent much of the next two hours wandering around Hoxton Hall trying to find the action, but the actors kept leaving rooms as soon as I entered, then vanishing through the warren-like venue. The moments I did glimpse were usually melodramatic and often nonsensical. At several points, I began feeling as if I too had joined the realm of the undead, and was doomed to repeat an eternity being lost in a Grade II listed music hall in East London. No doubt I probably just had a string of bad luck with my room choices, but even by the time the show reached its gory climax, I still did not have a clue what was going on.
Nonetheless, exploring the huge array of rooms (regardless of whether they were populated by vampires or not) was fun. Hoxton Hall provides an incredible backdrop for this undeniably macabre piece. The detail in Jane Brodie’s design, from the mossy floor of the graveyard in the basement, to the Swan Lake music box in a box room somewhere on the second floor, is extraordinary. It actually might be worth going to The Soulless Ones just to experience this part of it.
Within this spectacular space, the team behind The Soulless Ones create an atmosphere suitably conducive to horror, but the collective tightening of the heart as the lights dimmed and the show began did not last long: what started as a breathtaking adventure became a depressing two-hour traipse, first looking for the action, then trying to find the exit.
Script Advisor: Stewart Pringle
Directors: Oscar Blustin & Anna Soderblom
Producer: Hammer Live
Booking until: 31st October 2017
Box office: +44 20 7648 0060
Booking link: https://www.hoxtonhall.co.uk/hammer-house-horror-live/