Hour of the Wolf

AAR-MT-Natasha-Herbert-as-Mrs-Wolf-photo-by-Pia-JohnsonWalk-though immersive theatre is the ideal way to tell Malthouse Theatre’s Aussie-gothic-mystery Hour of the Wolf. It’s delightfully creepy and encourages repeat visits, but it feels like it was developed from the audience experience backwards rather than from the story forwards.

Director Matthew Lutton’s response to Covid-safer theatre was 2022’s Because the Night, a very successful interactive reflection on Hamlet. This is a fascinating new work by local writer Keziah Warner. It uses the techniques that made Night a success, but there’s something missing.

From when the audience are split, given headphones and enter in different rooms, it’s fun to be in the world of Hope Hill. It’s 3.00am and the small rural town faces the visit of a supernatural wolf who is said to take a victim each year. It’s an amazing opportunity to explore or create Australian mythology and urban (rural?) legends.

It’s easy to spend the hour exploring the design of each room, including a convenience store, laundry, potter’s studio, church, and black void of nothingness. The design team (Anna Cordingley, Zoe Rouse, Karine Larche, Amelia Lever-Davidson, Jethro Woodward, Justin Gardam and Matilda Woodroofe) create a world so real that it takes a while to feel comfortable really exploring – especially with the dark and noises of 3.00am. But do it!

The headphones let us hear the performers and also offer instructions, but everyone is free to watch the scenes or ignore the action and search for clues. At regular intervals, the space re-sets and the audience are given choices to follow characters and move to other scenes, which also took place between 3.00am and 4.00am, or go and explore.

And maybe this is what makes it feel more like an escape room than immersive theatre. It always feels like a game with instructions rather than its story about people facing their deepest fears. Unlike Because the Night, there is an option to see something you missed, but the re-set takes us out of the experience of getting to know and care about the people we are watching.

It’s difficult to be immersed when you are always being reminded that it’s a game. I recommend exploring the story deeply by watching all the scenes OR have a quick look and explore the empty rooms. Trying to do both leaves each feel lacking.

Despite trying, I didn’t solve the puzzle of Hour of the Wolf. I didn’t even know one character was in the story – and if I’d caught so much as a glimpse of them, it would have made my understanding very different. I looked for clues and found some. I got into a secret room by following someone else. My favourite part was the void. And I’m not sure who or what it was really about.

Which all goes back to it feeling like the content was squished into the form. Had Hour of the Wolf been told in a different way – well, I don’t think it would have been because the driving force and structure of the story gets lost in the re-sets, the instructions and the drive to solve a mystery that gets revealed if you are in the right place at the right time and doesn’t rely on your clue-finding skills.

Hour of the Wolf
Merlyn Theatre – Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Wednesday 26 October 2023
Season continues to 3 December 2023
Information and Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au

Image: Natasha Herbert as Mrs Wolf – photo by Pia Johnson

Review: Anne-Marie Peard