In 2016, bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company presented an immersive theatre production, Visiting Hours, at the Kings Cross Hotel as part of Vivid Sydney. That season ultimately sold out, but the production has now returned to the hotel for an encore season and has been updated and extended.
Visiting Hours sees several spaces within the five-story Kings Cross Hotel transformed into something intended to resemble an off-the-grid medical facility, which is run by an enigmatic person we come to know only as The Doctor (a character inspired by a famed local doctor of the 1930s.)
The experience involves attendees entering the hotel in groups of 20 in sessions that begin every 30 minutes between 7 and 9pm each night of the run. On entry, groups are introduced to an unsettling but amiable nurse (Laura Djanegara), who welcomes them to the facility and offers everyone a drink from small cups. All that is known at this point is that every member of the group will enter The Doctor’s facility and have the chance to witness first-hand the progressive therapies he is employing and the experiments he is undertaking in efforts to cure common ailments of the modern world.
Immersive theatrical experiences have come to prominence this decade through the work of UK theatre company, Punchdrunk, which is the organisation behind the New York City-based phenomenon, Sleep No More. The show, an adaptation of Macbeth played out in a 1930s-era hotel, has been a smash hit since it opened in 2011. These kinds of theatrical experiences have popped up sporadically in Australia and have been staged with varying degrees of success.
Visiting Hours is a successful venture into the immersive theatre realm. What’s particularly noteworthy about this production (written by John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi; and directed by Harrison and Michael Dean) is that it refuses to allow those who attend to be bystanders. Everyone who attends will, in some form, actively participate in the events that unfold, and effort has been made to ensure the experience is slightly different for each attendee. As to the nature of the events themselves, it’s virtually impossible to say much without giving away the integral surprise elements of the experience. There’s a cavalcade of characters encountered along the way, and moments left wide open to interpretation.
The experience is served well by a first-class cast of 20 actors, singers and musicians, who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to delivering the vision of the writers and directors. Music is used thoughtfully at intervals. An operatic piece performed by a solo vocalist represents the standout musical moment, fusing a chilling and melancholic mood for one of the production’s most dramatic segments.
Visually, Anna Gardiner’s sets and costumes convincingly locate us in a shadowy facility, run by an eccentric – and perhaps, unhinged – practitioner, as well as a team of staff who have all drunk the Kool-Aid. Benjamin Brockman’s dark and atmospheric lighting choices are also central to making the hotel transformation work. The scene that contains the most striking visuals occurs late in the piece, when a simple combination of darkness and smoke are used to tremendous effect for a gorgeous and powerful sense of ethereality. The only time we have any trouble fully immersing in the experience is when small windows in a door behind scenes staged early on allow us to catch glimpses of passing hotel patrons and staff.
Visiting Hours is a beguiling interactive drama that will likely pique your interest in out-of-the-ordinary theatrical events. It’s exciting therefore to remember that bAKEHOUSE is taking on two further immersive theatre projects in 2018, with KX Ultra planned for Vivid Sydney in May/June and Armistice set to arrive in early November.
VISITING HOURS – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 17 February, 2018.
Times: Sessions start every 30 minutes between 7 – 9pm
Running Time: 75 mins
Venue: Kings Cross Hotel – 248 William St, Potts Point
Tickets: Adult $35 | Concession $30 |
Bookings via www.kingsxtheatre.com