Featuring a classic Hammer House of Horror storyline and a perfectly atmospheric venue, The Soulless Ones succeeds on almost every level.
In the oh-so-2000s entryway to Hoxton Hall, we’re given black cloaks ‘to keep us safe’. Half an hour before it starts, we’re invited into the performance area to use the bars and take our seats. The staff are costumed and in character, muttering about Victorian London as they pour us viscous Jägermeister-infused punch and guide us to the main, smoke-filled theatre. Hoxton Hall was the perfect place to host this event, being perhaps the most historic theatre in the city and having more than a few ghosts of its own. Luckily for Hammer, the Victorian vibes of the venue also result in an instant veil of believability that complements the action to come.
Once the clock strikes eight, we are greeted by an enthusiastic professor of the supernatural, who explains the context of the night (we’re going to summon vampires), whilst introducing certain important ‘audience members’ as he performs the satanic ritual. A sinister presence appears on stage behind him and we’re told to ‘explore the building’. Somewhat shellshocked, the audience splits into disparate groups – moving up and downstairs, in search of whatever it is we’re looking for.
Admittedly, when this whole charade begins, it’s hard not to feel a little confused. Even with something as bold as Alice’s Adventures Underground, the audience are still being led through the maze of rooms by the actors. There is no structure to our movement. Yet, after around 20 minutes, everybody seems to have gotten a hang of what’s going on. Throughout a series of maybe 6 rooms (including the main hall), a variety of storylines play out amongst the cast. There’s linearity to each plot strand – although for the majority of the performance the plot strands don’t exactly coalesce. Throughout, there is an inexplicable sense of simmering tension waiting to boil over into some full-blown catastrophe: tension that continues to escalate until a well-done, though somewhat easy, finale ties up all of the plot strands.
If you were looking for a scare, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed – but there’s no evidence that Hammer were going for this in the first place. Instead, there’s a surreally romantic sense of melancholy decay that permeates the aged rafters of the venue. A sense of gothic that perfectly complements the brand reputation as the creator of classic horror. Groups of audience members become split up, drifting through the scenarios as individuals – or congregating in the bars for a mid-show drink. At one point, I wandered into a room to find that I was the only person there: when I opened the door, I found the actors performing their scene, alone in the deserted space. It was a moment of pure magic that made the whole affair feel so much more authentic.
The soundscape of the event is immaculate. A speaker system writhes through the building, projecting sinister whispers through the cavernous rooms. If I was to pick a weak-point, it’d be the effects. The staging may be immaculate, and the script fantastic, but the practical and lighting effects are in need of some work. It’s a piece of work in which many people are killed, yet it’s one in which miniature blood bags are the only piece of equipment to signify that someone’s throat has been cut. In a play seeking to be truly immersive, this is a little distracting. Similarly, the main hall was too light during some pivotal scenes, meaning we could see characters approaching the stage before they were supposed to be ‘revealed’ by strobe lighting.
But, taken in the round, Hammer House of Horror have put on an immersive production to rival the best. Creepy, melancholy, and beautiful, it’s a spectral piece of work that exudes a drifting, ethereal power – perfect for a good old-fashioned Halloween evening.