Hammer House of Horror Live: The Soulless Ones marks the long-time horror production house’s first foray into immersive theatre, and it delivers the goods. It’s true, no two audience experiences of each performance will be the same: for instance, I was one of those who came away splattered in fake blood, which is immensely satisfying in itself.
This is horror in a different vein from, say, the London Dungeons, and again different from the stage adaption of The Woman in Black, which I’d classify as an immersive experience like this though not billed as such, and which terrified me as a teenager. While the sets scattered around Hoxton Hall are pretty sumptuous, the focus is always on the acting rather than relying on the production value of the piece for the fear, and so there are no jump scares, sudden trapdoors opening, or figures appearing in mirrors as far as I observed.
What there is, however, is a tight, enjoyably campy but not self-indulgent story that above all else is always easy to follow. No matter if you stay put in the same main hall in which everyone starts or move restlessly from room to room, you can’t avoid absorbing the plot. And watching one scene, you aren’t filled with the urge to seek out more immediately in case you miss something vital somewhere else, because it’s all well written and working to tell the same story from different angles; everything serves its purpose. The co-writers and directors, Anna Soderblom and Oscar Blustin, both with considerable and varied achievements under their belts already, are helped by Stewart Pringle, who truly seems to be getting everywhere this year, in an advisory role.
The most disconcerting moment for me was walking into a dark, underground room and suddenly feeling loose earth under my shoes – apart from that, I didn’t spend much of the performance afraid, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment. No actor was as hammy as I was concerned they might be, despite the classic horror tropes made use of here. The costumes are gorgeous, and the two (very gay-seeming) dandy vampires played by Theo Devaney and Edward Elgood would probably have been considered grating by some, but I loved them, and Stephen Fewell as the ambiguously-intentioned Blythe sports some very dashing facial hair.
Though it helped that every audience member was issued with a black hooded cloak to wear, the sheer number of people plainly in their everyday wear and noisily shuffling around meant that, at least for me (a real wimp), fear wasn’t a danger. This is unavoidable, and not Hammer’s fault at all – the over 18s only rule is most likely only present to prevent young people from getting at the cocktails served at the performance’s bars, and not due to any difficult content. The Soulless Ones makes for a different and fun evening, although at £48.50 a ticket, those less well-off seeking entertainment might be tempted to craft their own immersive experience with friends, and settle for a Ouija board, some alcohol, and some fake blood of their own.
Photo: Hammer Films