Are you feeling well? Kings Cross Theatre’s latest interactive show is just this side of gimmicky, but you’re in good hands
What would it be like to be a patient locked away in a terrifying and unregulated old-school medical facility, run by a dangerously eccentric figure known simply as the Doctor? You don’t have to stretch your imagination too far with Visiting Hours, the ambitious immersive theatre experience that takes place across five floors of Kings Cross Hotel, run by the crew behind Kings Cross Theatre.
Created by John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi, the work premiered as part of Vivid in 2016 and sold out almost immediately after it went on sale. It’s now been expanded and refined for a new season that’s just sold out (you can join a waitlist in case tickets become available) and offers a pretty solid bang for your buck.
There’s clear inspiration drawn from the long-running New York immersive show Sleep No More, but while that piece will set you back more than $100, Visiting Hours is just $35.
With groups of 20 going in every half hour, the whole thing lasts about 75 minutes. The foreboding tone is set before the performance begins – everybody is given a plastic bracelet for identification and told to pay attention to the colour and number written on the bracelet. You’re also asked if you have any allergies; a sticker was attached to my shirt after I revealed my penicillin allergy.
You enter on the ground floor, where you’re invited to take your first dose of a mysterious medicinal cocktail (I won’t ruin the surprise as to what’s actually in the shot, but ‘90s kids might get a splash of nostalgia) and meet a not-too-comforting nurse who promises that no harm will come to you. From here, you’re led through a series of rooms where things become more and more confusing; you’ll be examined by nurses in odd and intimate ways, observe experimental medical procedures, participate in rituals and be given strict orders in languages other than English.
To reveal too many of the events would be to ruin the surprises of this work, which draws its inspiration from haunted houses but has a touch of dramatic heft. Although it’s fair to say that you will actually meet the Doctor at some point.
The performances from the surprisingly large cast – new performers keep appearing around every corner – are first-rate, and the extensive audience participation is handled effectively. No two audience members will have exactly the same experience, as the group is broken apart and individuals are taken to different spaces – in fact, you could find yourself suddenly pulled away from the group by a performer for a particular task.
Anna Gardiner’s retro production design is brilliantly evocative and convincingly transforms rooms you might have visited before into the wards of the Doctor’s facility. Importantly, it manages to avoid many of the tropes of the ‘mad house’ horror genre that frequently stigmatise mental illness.
The final scene – which is actually sublimely beautiful in performance, lighting and sound design – mightn’t quite match the tone of what’s gone before, but it does lend a little bit of weight to a work that can sometimes feel a little more like a sideshow than the real deal.
Visiting Hours is nonetheless a significant achievement for an independent theatre company. It might be a little on the gimmicky side, but it’s executed with a great deal of confidence and is bound to keep you enthralled. By the end you’ll feel surprisingly at ease under the Doctor’s care.