Hammer House Of Horror Live: The Soulless Ones review

How about experiencing Hammer Horror - live? We went to London to find out more...

Hammer House Of Horror Live: The Soulless Ones is the resurrected horror brand’s first stab at immersive theatre. Den of Geek headed to West London, excited to experience what promised to be a night of ghastly fun and ghouls, and keen to find out what the on earth immersive theatre is.

“Would you like a cape?” asked the usher.

“No thanks.”

“No, you have to take a cape. I just asked to be polite.”

Ad – content continues below

It didn’t seem so polite to me, but he tipped me off that I should hang onto to my satchel as the bag check gets busy at the end of the night so I considered us squared away.

I found myself in a dim hallway, having picked up my ticket from the box office and cleared through the bright white slick arts-centre-modern reception area into Hoxton Hall. There were a lot of excited people in capes, although I held onto mine. I hadn’t turned out in a four-year-old Matalan hoody and the same jeans I’d been wearing for three weeks straight just to cover myself up with a cape.

My eye was drawn to a pendulum clock on the wall. I can’t tell if it was set dressing or part of the building, a Victorian era music hall that creeks in a pleasing old way. The pendulum clock ticked, ticked, ticked towards the start of the show.

Everyone was wearing their capes, so I supposed I had better put my damned cape on. I hate joining in. I tapped my foot waiting for the show to start, becoming increasingly concerned that the actors would talk to me as part of the show. Was it going to be that sort of a night?

Before the 8pm start time, I bumped into Hammer’s own Simon Oakes, who was very nice to me even though when he tried to talk to me about Hammer’s recent films (The Woman In Black, The Quiet Ones, Let Me In) I insisted on bringing up their 2008 Myspace project Beyond The Rave. When picturing how stupid I looked doing that, do remember that I was wearing a cape. We didn’t have long, though, as we were summoned to the main hall where the show would begin. The ground floor section looked fairly full and figuring I was there to observe I headed up the stairs.

The main hall is a thin room, narrowed further when peered down upon from the balcony. It’s a beautiful old space, warm looking with wooden seats and not quite enough room to move around in, all of which feels aged and entirely appropriate for Hammer.

Ad – content continues below

The show begins with a few of the key characters setting us up by kneading the necessary exposition into a scene with a satanic ritual. From there, the characters break out of the room and you’re left to shape your experience by exploring the different rooms, where the story plays out all at once. So, if you head to the grave on the ground floor, you’ll miss what’s going on in the bedroom, the main hall and the various other rooms around the building.

The idea is that you explore. I never seemed to find the start of a scene, but they all seem to play to an end of sorts, meaning there’s a building, escalating structure to each scene. The pacing is quite restrained, which I think is important for this event. Moving around and dipping in and out is actually a little taxing, as I found myself generating a considerable amount of heat inside my cape, so allowing scenes a slow build is a smart shout.

The approach that worked for me was to follow the character that I found most interesting into their next scene, as they would move from one scene to the next. So you’d charge to the next space and perhaps a scene was just starting up or perhaps you were following them into an existing scene, but their entry point was yours too. It’s a cool way to experience a story. I didn’t follow the same character around; I wanted to try every room and see every character, or sometimes I would stick with a certain room, particularly if someone interesting looking came in.

It does mean that you get a fractious sense of the story. It felt very out of step with modern storytelling, where Blu-rays might contain hours of disused material and several different cuts of the film so that you can see everything, and where older movies are picked over so that prequels can be made to elaborate on every detail. Rather than consuming everything here, you experience just pieces of it, and once it’s happened it’s happened and you either saw it or you didn’t. I reasoned that it would make writing this article difficult. How can I say if the show is good if you could attend and see almost an entirely different set of scenes?

I did come away with an understanding of a full story, though, and it’s a fun Gothic vampire horror tale. It’s an exciting approach to storytelling, I think, even if it did aggravate my hoarder’s anxiety.

The format throws up all sorts of interesting moments. There was an instance where just a few of us were in a room with one of the actresses, she performed being alone and distressed, and it felt uncomfortably voyeuristic. In another moment, I was the last person to leave the bedroom set where a different actress was essentially left performing without an audience.

Ad – content continues below

The bedroom set is wonderful; it’s warmly lit, the walls a smeared an ocean blue. There’s a four poster bed with red velvet curtains. It’s a grand bedroom, only vines run across the ceiling and along one of the walls, escaping through the window. Music plays and adds to the uneasy atmosphere. The sets are typically great. The graveyard, with its earthy floor, is similarly impressive

As immersive as it is, a few real world prompts sneak in. A velvet red curtain framing a metallic lift, a moment where a door eases slowly shut allowing a restroom hand-dryer to buzz at the performance for a moment. It may snap you out of the experience, although I reasoned that these are fairly unavoidable issues and the short jolt served as a prompt as to how deeply I’d been pulled in.

The most impressive scenes take place in the main hall. The séance is fantastic, with a performance from Rosalyn Hill as Lovegood (the cast were all great) that’s so good it feels wrong not to applaud, while the ending provides a really fun tongue-in-cheek conclusion and was met with a deserved rabble of excited applause.

It’s difficult to place a comparison point for the show. It’s not an experience I’d liken to attending a play exactly (I should note that my theatre going experience is very limited). Perhaps the most apt reference point for Hammer House Of Horror Live is The London Dungeon (or whatever your local dungeon is), thankfully without you having to interact with the characters. It’s not jumpy and I don’t know that you’d necessarily be scared, but it’s atmospheric and captures the spirit of Hammer, with its love, lust, social stuffiness, satanic rituals, witchcraft, murder and betrayal.

The uniqueness of The Soulless Ones, or how alien it is from my experiences attending shows, also makes it difficult to work out whether the price point should impact the recommendation. The tickets aren’t cheap (although they are limited in number and it didn’t feel overcrowded, which I appreciated), but then it’s a live theatre experience with a decent number of decorated spaces and a sizable, capable cast. I can’t tell you what the money is worth to you, but I can tell you that at the end of the night, when I alighted into the chilly night – cape wrestled away from me by my friend, the usher – I’d had a really fun time.

Hammer House Of Horror Live: The Soulless Ones runs until 31st October at Hoxton Hall. Find out more at hammerhouseofhorror.com 

Ad – content continues below