“City arts people. Gullible as fuck.” It’s hard not to chuckle, as a Melbourne-based critic, when listening to this acidic aside during a drug deal chat playing out in the carpeted and wood-panelled pub of Hope Hill, the ‘haunted’ town that houses Malthouse’s latest immersive theatre offering Hour of the Wolf.
You may think that being made to do the heavy lifting – pursuing a story on foot, following loose threads that diverge – is a mug’s game. But suppose you dug the Southbank institution’s lockdown-interrupted blockbuster Because the Night, the more recent undersea antics of Love Lust Lost or were lucky enough to catch Sleep No More in NYC. In that case, you’re likely happily ‘gullible’.
Corralled in hushed anticipation wearing the headsets that relay the narration, dread-filled
score and deftly woven actor’s dialogue – expertly stitched by composition and sound designer
Jethro Woodward – the audience emerges from the darkness behind a blast door into strobing
blue light. Finding ourselves in this boozy den accompanied by a very on-the-snout rendition of Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, murdered in slurring karaoke by Brooke Lee’s Janey,
who has just returned from Italy with some startling news. Interrupting the shameless flirting of Kevin Hofbauer’s cocky Jason, his ensuing crankiness won’t stop his determination to drive Lucy Ansell’s Vick home, despite the inconvenient fact she lives with her boyfriend.
Meanwhile, Jack Green’s Gareth has just popped a pill provided by a similarly track-suited but also Trainspotting Sick Boy-bleached Karl Richmond’s Adam, leading to a terrible trip. And it is a trip, figuring out what’s happening in writer Keziah Warner’s latest addition to the extended canon of Twin Peaks-like towns wrangling with dark secrets, with Lynch doffing his cap to Ingmar Bergman’s twisting dreamscapes.
Here, groupthink led to a terrible act of mob violence decades ago that birthed a legend gouged into the town’s psyche like a scar. As such, the wolf’s hour requires a sacrifice from the townsfolk, leaving offerings of bread (or worse) at their door by 3am on the same night annually or risk losing something valuable: inhibitions, a lover or their life.
But will you go on this trip with the sky-high lads to a house party, where you’ll meet Emily
Milledge’s distressed gym worker Mia and short-tempered director Vic (Christina
O’Neill)? The latter is shooting a metatextual movie about the town’s curse that casts a fur-
suited Eva Rees’ Alex as her ‘wolf’ and Keegan Joyce’s dithering Emmet as the reluctant priest tasked with killing her. Or will you follow Jason’s clumsy flirtation or Janey’s mixed messages
There’s a visceral thrill in making split-second decisions, but if fear of interaction chills you to
your bones, worry not. We’re forbidden to interrupt the characters, and they will not register
our presence, so boldly go unbothered, barring the occasionally irksome buzz of crackling
If Jack Green’s oddly muted walk on the wild side isn’t as nightmarish as it needs to be in a dark chamber that also requires much more from Amelia Lever-Davidson’s lighting design to match Zoë Rouse’s bat-like wolf head, and if Keegan Joyce is similarly subdued, then the whole is carried by its ensemble.
Ably directed by Malthouse artistic director Matthew Lutton, Natasha Herbert’s narration offers enticing titbits of what once was. If you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of her secretive character. I didn’t. Katherine Tonkin excels as an unnerving potter moulding the mythmaking into its most worrying form, eliciting shivers in a scuzzy laundrette and an empty gym, both spilt with suspicious red stains. A hospital showdown between Janey, Alex and Adam is unmissable, thanks primarily to Brooke Lee’s pained performance: are the strange gaps in her story down to a car crash-provoked concussion, or is it easier to forget painful decisions?
Wherever you wander, you’ll fill in (some of) the blanks with three rounds of the ‘same’
hour, with the clock resetting every 20 minutes, roughly, in real time. It’s a bit rushed, and it’s
unlikely you’ll unpick every plot thread, but such is the way of these choose-your-own
adventures. What is a shame is that the short runtime leaves little opportunity to follow regular prompts to investigate the rooms for hidden clues.
Meticulously created by set designer Anna Cordingley and dressed by Matilda Woodroofe, there’s undoubtedly more than meets the eye, but I had no time to dig deeper. Getting the most out of the work would probably require an extra half-hour – perhaps a frozen ten minutes between resets – to fold in deeper exploration and plot-piecing together.
Not everyone can afford a return visit, after all. If once is all we gullible types can do, there’s still plenty of meat on these bones to sink your teeth into. Leaving me ravenous for more, perhaps that’s no bad ‘wolf’ thing.
'Hour of the Wolf' is playing at the Malthouse Theatre until December 17. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to the website.