Immersive theatre has returned to Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre with a new production titled, Hour of the Wolf. Having experienced two other immersive theatre productions, one good, one bad, I was hesitant. Thankfully, Hour of the Wolf is the best production of its kind to date.
Set in a small town named Hope Hill, once a year, a cursed night approaches. The myth of the Wolf takes over the town. Some leave out offerings for fear the Wolf will take what she is owed. Some believe the Wolf can take away their deepest fears and indiscretions. Whilst there are others that think it is all crazy small-town folklore. With the whole town at your disposal to explore, what you believe is completely up to you. What path will you take?
So, how does Hour of the Wolf work? Well, upon entry to the theatre space, you each given a set of wireless headphones. These would connect to each room as you move throughout the space. Each performer is fully mic’d up, with their dialogue being transmitted directly to my ears. There is also a soundscape and score that plays, along with a narrator that helps guide you on your journey through Hope Hill.
For me, my path began in the bar where two mates, Gareth (Jack Green) and Adam (Karl Richmond) discuss the drugs they plan to sell. On the other side of the room, a couple that appeared to be estranged lovers, Jason (Kevin Hofbauer) and Vick (Lucy Ansell) are playing a cheeky game of truth or dare. At the centre was a singer Janey (Brooke Lee) providing the evening’s entertainment. As a first introduction to this new immersive experience, it felt like I had stepped into an actual bar, eves dropping on intimate conversations.
The scene came to an end and the narrator, voiced by Natasha Herbert, came through the headphones. She explained that we had three choices, we could follow the two friends selling drugs to a house party, we could follow the singer, Janey and Jason to his car, or we could follow Vick. Intrigued by Gareth and Adam’s entrepreneurial endeavours to sell some drugs to some unsuspecting actors, I followed them to the house party.
Here we met two new characters. Ana (Christina O’Neill), the director of a film that was supposed to finish, but the wrap party turned out to be a complete disaster, and Mia (Emily Milledge) who was freaking out over some towels that had gone missing from the laundry she had completed from her job at the local gym.
Towards the end of the scene, news come through to Adam that there had been a car accident and had to rush off to the hospital. Gareth, high on the drugs he was trying to sell, picked up a wolf head off the coffee table, part of a costume from Ana’s film. He was off to the convenience store while Mia was heading back to the gym to investigate the missing towels. Again, we were given the option, what path we could to take. There was also the option to stay back and investigate the apartment. I chose to follow Adam to the hospital where we met another character, Alex (Eva Rees), Adam’s girlfriend.
At the end of the third scene in the hospital, the narrator returned to my ears explaining an hour had past and time has been reset. I was surprised, but also excited! We were then given the option to return to a room we had not yet seen. Visit the church where a film was being made, or head to the laundromat where Mia was cleaning the towels from the gym. Intrigued by the film plot, I headed to the gym where we were introduced to yet another character, Emmett (Keegan Joyce).
Whilst each scene leading up to this point were great in their own right, it was the church that I was thoroughly impressed by. There was something meta about actors, portraying actors and discussing the characters they are portraying and how they identify with them. It was low key hilarious, and I was doing my best to not burst out into laughter. With Hour of the Wolf becoming a sort of supernatural style thriller, I also appreciated the deep cut Supernatural TV series references.
Following the end of the church scene, I followed Alex to the car crash and then followed Jason onto the convenience store. Time was reset one last time and I headed to the laundromat, where we were introduced to Mary (Katherine Tonkin). I then followed Mary to her pottery studio, then again onto the gym. It was in the gym that the performance ended, but I wanted more!
Each of the performances are fantastic in their own right and each of them should be very proud with the roles they have portrayed. but there were some standouts. Katherine Tonkin is great as Mary, the loyal follower of the Wolf folklore to the point where it started to feel a little too real. Emily Milledge is fantastic as the panicked and scared Mia. Of course, a myth as big as this one wouldn’t be complete without the sceptic. Christina O’Neill’s portrayal of Ana was great. But the clear standout to me would have to be Keegan Joyce as Emmet. Joyce’s dry humour delivery in a production that is rather dark was some much-needed light.
There is much to love about this production. One thing that makes Hour of the Wolf exceptional is having the audio delivered directly to your ears. It meant that I could hear all conversations in the room that I was in without issue. The addition of a musical score and sound effects also elevated this immersive experience well above the other productions I have experienced. With other productions, I always felt I was missing out on something, or I was getting lost in the space. Whilst you can choose a path of your own making in Hour of the Wolf and not follow the narrative, being given a direct path to follow meant that I was able to experience as much as possible.
The narrative was extremely intriguing and the whole creative team need to be applauded, but there are some callouts that need to be made. Keziah Warner’s writing and ‘choose your own adventure’ style is fun and thought provoking. I haven’t stopped thinking about the show and want to go back to experience more. Anna Cordingley’s set design is detailed and makes full use of the space on offer. With the combination of Amelia Lever-Davidson’s lighting design, Jethro Woodward’s score and sound design, together they help bring the immersive experience to life.
Hour of the Wolf is easily the best immersive theatre experience I have had to date. I am already planning my return to the Malthouse Theatre to experience the things that I missed the first time. I think there may be a couple of rooms I didn’t get the chance to visit that I want to see next time around.
At no point did I feel lost or that I was missing out anything at Hour of the Wolf. Having the narrator guide you around the space is very clever, but you also have the choice to do what you want. My path may be completely different to yours. There is no right or wrong way to experience the show and honestly, I cannot wait to go back and experience Hour of the Wolf again!
Hour of the Wolf is performing now at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre through to the 17th of December. With multiple sessions a day, there are plenty of opportunities for you to visit Hope Hill.
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Photography by Pia Johnson.