It became a sell-out success when it premiered as part of Vivid Sydney in 2016. Now, Visiting Hours, an immersive theatre production created by bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company, is presenting a return season at Sydney’s Kings Cross Hotel.
Opening tonight, Visiting Hours involves the transformation of the five-story hotel into an off-the-grid medical facility run by a mysterious figure known only as ‘The Doctor’.
John Harrison, co-writer of Visiting Hours, tells Theatre People that ‘The Doctor’ is inspired by a doctor who lived in the Kings Cross area in the 1920s and 30s.
“He was basically this larger-than-life character who would go anywhere and treat anyone, and because it was The Cross, he had to carry a gun with him everywhere,” Harrison says.
“He really was this amazing character who had the best interests of the people at heart. Apparently, his wife used to have food on the stove for anyone who dropped by, and there were some great stories about him.”
Harrison continues: “We’ve … turned the Kings Cross Hotel into this very surreal, hallucinogenic, off-the-grid medical sanatorium, run by this character … He seems to have lived this improbably eventful life across many time periods, and so he may be immortal or he may have mastered time travel, and it’s really up to the audience to piece together the puzzle as they go through the experience.”
Those who attend Visiting Hours will enter The Doctor’s world and participate in his unconventional therapies and experiments. The 2018 staging is an updated and extended version of what was presented in 2016.
“The underlying premise is that living in the modern world causes a sickness, and that manifests itself as pain, anxiety, depression, fatigue, a sense that you’ve not fulfilled your potential,” Harrison says. “The audience are coming to the sanatorium to undertake the doctor’s therapies and methods to basically cure what ails them.
“It starts off very fun and interactive and quite trippy. As the night progresses, it gets darker and more disturbing … It ends up going on a journey to the realm between life and death … It becomes quite mystical in the end. There’s this great range of experience that the audience goes through over the course of the night.”
Visiting Hours involves a team of over 20 actors, singers and musicians in a work that blends music, performance, lighting and sound with a design that utilises the unique architecture of the Kings Cross Hotel.
“The Kings Cross Hotel is one of the most iconic venues in The Cross, and a lot of people will think they know it,” Harrison says. “But this is a chance to see it in a totally new light.”
Visiting Hours is the first in a trilogy of immersive theatre experiences that bAKEHOUSE has programmed for 2018, including KX Ultra (which will be part of Vivid Sydney) from 28 May to 10 June, and Armistice from 1 to 11 November.
Harrison shares his perspective on the appetite for immersive theatre in Australia.
“I think audiences are looking for new experiences, and certainly theatre that becomes an event, rather than just going to see another show, is always something that hopefully will get people interested and excited,” he says.
“I think one of the reasons why we don’t see a lot of that theatre in Australia is it’s very difficult to maintain a particular atmosphere once the audience get engaged, because … if you have a premise that asks the audience to actually perform in front of their fellow audience members, then people often go for comedy or they feel uncomfortable and don’t want to do it, so the atmosphere you’re trying to create can dissipate very quickly.”
Harrison says the audience experience for Visiting Hours has been carefully crafted.
“I think my fellow writers, Con Costi and Michael Costi, and I have come up with a great concept where it is a completely immersive experience, the audience do participate and get involved and it’s very interactive,” he says. “At other times, it’s more observant, but there are lots of little breakout moments where a group of audience [members] are ushered off into one room and they have an experience, while the other group goes somewhere else; where someone might be pulled out of a group and they go off to experience something.
“It’s all about igniting that conversation at the end of the night, where people can say, ‘What happened when you went over there?’ and ‘What went on in that room there when you went with that person?’ There’s a lot of fun in talking about it afterwards, and everyone in the audience gets an entirely unique experience.”
So, who should attend Visiting Hours at the Kings Cross Hotel?
“I think anyone who’s interested in theatre and the arts would definitely be interested, but also people who are looking for a new experience and something that’s different from the usual theatre experience of going into a theatre and sitting in your seat and watching a play,” Harrison says.
“If you’re looking for a fun night out with a few friends, it’s a great experience for that because there really is a lot to talk about after the show and a lot of fun to be had through it … The audience really are on the edge of their seats trying to figure out what’s going to be around the corner.”
Watch the Visiting Hours trailer here
VISITING HOURS – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Kings Cross Hotel – 248 William St, Potts Point
Dates: Playing now until 17 February, 2018
Times: Sessions start every 30 minutes between 7 – 9pm
Running Time: 75mins
Tickets: Adult $35 | Concession $30 | Cheap Tuesday $25.
Bookings via www.kingsxtheatre.com