Medical experimentation and a doctor with all the tools and little regard for human life – this is the story of Visiting Hours, the latest theatre production by Bakehouse’s Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), which is taking over the Kings Cross Hotel this month.
The play is staged across the five levels of the hotel, which have been transformed into the wings of an unnerving old hospital occupied by ghosts of its past patients and other imagined fragments of history. Multiple plays run simultaneously across eight rooms, each with its own focus.
Directed by Bakehouse co-artistic director John Harrison and Michael Dean Sound, Visiting Hours features a cast of 29 actors, singers and musicians in each performance, with multiple tech operators stationed on each floor.
The hotel is an appropriate setting for such a tale; it’s positioned adjacent to the Coca-Cola sign overlooking the main intersection of The Cross like an institutional watchtower. Established in the early 1900s, it’s seen some things.
“The hotel is the springboard for the staging,” says co-director Harrison. “Its hidden rooms and surprising nooks and crannies are what makes the experience all the more dark and disturbing.”
The writers have taken further inspiration from the locale’s history, curious characters and spaces. “One of things we happened upon while researching design was the story of the Kings Cross Waxworks, operating just up the road in Springfield Avenue from the ’60s to the ’80s. It was known as a dark, dusty and slightly disturbed place, and was a popular local attraction. It was also a little bit gory and renowned for exhibits including an Algerian hook exhibition and the recreation of the last shark attack at Balmoral Beach.”
Bakehouse launched KXT at the end of 2015 to support Sydney’s independent-theatre scene and foster young emerging artists. KXT is consciously producing a program of risky works, a category Visiting Hours easily falls into. Its dynamic relies heavily on an audience willing to engage and, at times, willing to take risks itself.
Harrison promises it’s not as confronting as it sounds, and while audience members are led into the world the actors have built, there aren’t any expectations or demands. “I think as a whole we're inviting the audience to figure out what's going on,” he says. “So in some ways the play is a mystery, but then at times it's also a comedy; at other times it’s a drama. At its heart it's a love story, just not in the traditional sense.”
This production is the second run of the show; the first was a sell-out at Vivid in 2016. Most of the original 2016 cast and crew are back, including Jim McCrudden as the Doctor and Monica Sayers as Irene. The restaging has allowed them the opportunity to update and extend the production (its inclusion in Vivid was partially due to its clever lighting design).
Breakout moments and improvisations by the actors mean the play will be different for every member of the audience. “It’s fun and trippy and as the night progresses the experience becomes darker and more unsettling,” Harrison says.
Visiting Hours runs from February 7 to 17 at The Kings Cross Hotel. Sessions start every 30 minutes between 7pm and 9pm.