By Ash Cottrell
It was Friday night at, Malthouse Theatre and the weather could only be characterised as, European-esque. There was a stillness to the evening and a frivolity in the air. One of COVID’s lasting benefits, the extended outdoor area, adjacent to ACCA, was abuzz with patrons. Suffice to say, life was good. With an aperitif in hand and a playbook in the other, I eagerly awaited opening night of, Hour of the Wolf, created by Keziah Warner and Matthew Lutton. While I’d come across mixed reviews, the concept intrigued me and by contrast, I’d only heard wildly positive things about, Because The Night, Malthouse Theatre’s immersive show from 2021. The outlook was good.
Prior to the commencement of the show, audiences were ushered into the Merlyn Theatre and asked to wait, tightly packed in like sardines, behind an ominous door. We were all handed headphones and there was something about the looming immersion that had me wild with anticipation. What fun this ‘choose your own adventure’ play would be! It felt new, different and with childlike abandon, I prepared to be ‘wowed’. Thinking back on my lifetime love affair with the theatre, I couldn’t recall having ever been to a show that characterised itself as immersive.
What was evident from the first few moments of stepping into the playing space was that the set design, by Anna Cordingley was absolutely spectacular. Kudos should also go to Associate Set Designer, Karine Larché and the set dresser, Matilda Woodroofe. The many sets within the set were characterised by impeccable attention to detail and served as a playing space for the cast to inhabit wholly and the audience, to explore. Colour palettes were rich and evocative, and the dimensionality of the spaces struck me as cinematic. Further, the sheer logistics of the set pieces that they incorporated, notably a car crash, were impressive feats in the confines of a theatre. It would be remiss not to mention that the design elements were seamlessly brought to life with excellent lighting and sound design by, Amelia Lever-Davidson (Lighting Designer), Jethro Woodward (Composition and Sound Designer) and Justin Gardam (Associate Sound System Designer).
What let the experience of this show down for me was that the story and dialogue were somewhat lacking. I felt like the complex structure, whereby you chose which characters and stories to engage with, following the completion of any given scene, resulted in an overarching narrative structure that lacked substance. With the exception of the always intoxicating, Emily Milledge’s performance, I struggled to connect with the other storylines and felt short-changed by the absence of a satisfying catharsis for the characters overall. It’s not that I am uncomfortable with a non-linear narrative but there was something amiss with the character stakes and plot. Upon reflection, if asked to summarise the story succinctly, I would struggle and I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.
The setting of the play, a fictitious town called, Hope Hill where we found these characters at 3am, was a little pastiche for me, in that it felt reminiscent of the Aussie tradition of establishing small towns where the overarching ties that bind, are folk law and broad Australian accents. While I enjoy languishing in these worlds from time to time, it felt a bit like a device here.
In short, while I was ultimately underwhelmed with the story and dialogue, the show was brilliant conceptually and the design work was jaw-droppingly good. To say it wasn’t enjoyed would be a gross simplification because the elements that worked, really showed a prowess and sophistication that I’ve thought of many times since. Looking forward to seeing what these theatre makers create next.
Images: Pia Johnson