This ambitious vampire jaunt is decent horror, but not great interactive theatre
There’s something stirring in the rabbit warren of Victorian-era venue Hoxton Hall in east London – something new. That wrenching, rasping noise is the sound of a major British franchise taking its first step into theatre.
Legendary horror film company Hammer has had a resurgence recently, producing well-crafted chillers like the Daniel Radcliffe-starring ‘The Woman in Black’. Here, it’s gone back to its blood-red roots. ‘The Soulless Ones’ plays out a story of vampires scheming to walk in the sunlight throughout Hoxton Hall’s various rooms.
For fang fans, there’s a decent amount of arterial spray and the production looks gorgeous. Designer Jane Brodie has completely transformed Hoxton Hall, packing every room with gothic detail. This is an exemplary piece of world-building, evoking the Victorian lavishness of Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ and the twilight backrooms of TV series ‘Penny Dreadful’.
The show’s co-creators, Oscar Blustin and Anna Soderblom, deserve respect for crafting an original story rather than just pulling in the punters by raiding everything in Hammer’s back catalogue under the heading ‘Christopher Lee’. But truly immersive theatre, which completely absorbs an audience into the live space of its tale, is tricky to get right. This is where the show falters.
Blustin and Soderblom do a decent enough job of staging scenes throughout the building, which allows you vaguely to grasp the characters’ differing agendas, when you obviously can’t be in every room at once. But it’s a piecemeal and ‘on rails’ experience. You spend most of your time turning up at the tail-end of some frustratingly opaque bit of dialogue and jostling for leg-room.
The cast gives full-blooded performances (sorry, sorry). Robert Nairne gives us a particularly fun, skittering turn as the vamps’ human ‘pet’ Dimi. But there’s no interaction with the characters. Cumulatively, then, engaging with ‘The Soulless Ones’ feels like chasing a partially overheard film through a noisy crowd of people. It might have an 18-rating, but this is sadly fangless.