Hi there. I’m going to write a review based on the amazing experience that was the live show of House Of Hell at Fighting Fantasy Fest 3 for all those who couldn’t attend.
Imagine, two rows of people semicirculing around a small stage area in near darkness. Three cowled and white masked figures gliding slowly around, each holding a candle so their eyes stared hauntingly at you as creepy atmospheric music dances in your ears. They usher you to your seats with gentle hand gestures with their eyes locked on yours and you already feel unsettled.
Everyone seated. An introduction commences. A sinister disembodied voice gives us the low down on what we are about to experience and guidance on how to play the scenes out.
“Close your eyes, take a deep breath, innnn……… and out. Close your eyes, what do you see in front of you?”
I remember thinking at this point if somebody puts an ice cube down my back I’ll bite them. After the deep relaxation routine we was told to imagine ‘the’ setting and open our eyes.
So there’s show creator and immaterial guide Olly McNeil dressed in fine garb holding his gong, with a wizened stooping figure who appears to be looking for his son. He has gone missing and it falls on the audiences lap to help him. Olly then prompts us to ask the old boy questions and an audience member asks his sons name. The sons name is Alexander Reader. (A Reader… get it?) Of course your Jam mishears the old mans rasping voice (thinking he said Alisandra, duh) and asks the sons name again. This time my aging ears actually hear, and Olly whacks his gong signifying time to shut our eyes. The low rumble of a set change is heard and we all leap out of our seats when Olly gongs again. (It’s small but good lord it’s loud.)
Upon opening our eyes the set now looks like its set outside an ornate main door of a large gothic house. Five triangles are on the floor and a group of five audience members are asked to take positions in them, one each. As you can imagine, volunteers were slow to respond with all of this tense atmosphere. When they did, they became the physical gateway of the game, the hero incarnate to work in tandem with audiences suggestions. A conundrum was presented to them whereby they had to fold a pictures of two wolves to make one. To progress further some bright spark worked out they should howl loudly. (Was this a nod to the Jonathan Green book Howl Of The Werewolf or sheer coincidence ?)
A door opened, and a creepy butler appeared. We asked if they had heard of an Alexander Reader. He invited us in to look around.
GONG rustle rustle creak rumble as the set transformed. GONG, ooh a room with paintings. This makes for interesting exploration, and were find a message behind one canvas from the missing Mr Reader Jnr telling us vital clues to succeed in our mission. There are books and other objects containing items to help us along the way. The butler has wandered off so we swipe these and with another GONG we go back into eyes shut mode while the set is altered again.
The next scene is rather fun as I get to be one of the interacting bodies and lo and behold, the five of us are faced with none other than Lord Kelnor the Earl Of Drumer. He doesn’t appear to be pleased when we question him over a missing person but offers us a drink of brandy or red wine. Four of us go for brandy while the remaining one chose red wine. A gasp goes up from the audience when she does as the recollect wine being a dodgy choice in the book, however it was the white wine that was drugged so we was all safe really. What’s lovely here is we discover this is real brandy and wine not cold tea or fruit juice. (Thanks Olly 😉 ) We don’t really learn much from the irritated Earl who is obviously lying about what he knows – or claims he doesn’t know – so the scene closes and I return to my seat where Steven Leicester calls me a jammy sod for getting a free tipple.
The next scene is the scariest yet with a wailing and shrieking ghost of a girl who was murdered within the house. Once again we are given vital clues as what needs to be done but the performance by the fabulous Emily Carding is quite scary still rings in my ears to this day. If you’re easily scared this isn’t a scene for you!
After the next stage intermission, we are facing a grisly discovery of a skeleton. The trapped spirit of which tells us he is none other than Alexander Reader. We are too late to save him, but still have a chance to rescue a policewoman whom has been taken hostage in the confines of the house. We also know we need to find the infamous Kris knife in order to defeat ‘The Master’ of the house. After performing a blessing to free the spirit of its earthly binds, we strive forward into the next scene after a GONG.
Now here’s a very eerie thing. An old lady looking like shes dead lays in her bed motionless. Flowers surround her as we assume she is laying in state. The incidental music makes the hairs on the back of my neck prickle and I feel a cold shudder. One of the interacters anounces themselves. A croning voice answers back she is old and just wishes to be left alone. Defiant we try to gain more information then she really loses is and calls on her children to take care of us. Into the room shamble two ghoulish creatures resembling corpses in the midst of butyric fermentation. One of the interactors bravely receives an injury while another casts an incantation to change these things back to inanimate dead bodies. They fall to the ground lifeless (and almost knocking the old woman out of bed lol). That was a tense moment.
GONG! Olly starts the new scene and we find ourselves in a rather Edwardian looking study. We look around and… Ahhhh is this the Kris knife in here? We find a new confidence in our task ahead and wonder what dangers still lie ahead.
The start of the next scene is rather sad. Two near dead prisoners of the house in a state of complete misery and torment splutter and choke, begging to be killed so they can stop suffering. Unfortunately for them our lot are not in to Euthanasia so they get to expire naturally. Such a tug on the heartstrings it leads one to think what they would have done as a singular adventurer. Is a mercy killing really a good thing? Can you find it within you to carry it out? Of all the scenes, this one picks at your morals most. With a jolt, Ollys GONG snaps you out of your reasoning mind.
The set changed again. Laying on an alter is a young woman while above her towers the Earl Of Drumer in sacraficial robes complete with goatshead mask. He raises his dagger slowly with intent to offer this girls soul to the supernatural being he worships. I call out frantically to the guys on stage to shout ‘STOP’ and after a split seconds hesitation they spring into action taking out the Earl and wounding the butler. But what’s this? The butler crawls behind a door and Olly recites some exciting narration. There is a loud roar and Franklins the butler has transformed into a huge red Hell Demon who strides back into the room looking for revenge through furious eyes. Which interactor is holding the Kris knife right now? None other than Steve Jackson! He flies at the infernal creature with trusty sidekick… Lin Liren at his side and strikes it with the Kris knife sending it to the ground, defeated by the fabled blade.
House Of Hell Live was a brilliant show experience, both submersive and engaging for the whole audience. With gothic set pieces, scary encounters, chilling background music and Ollys adaptation is faithful to the book. Full marks for enjoyment and congratulations to all involved. We need more of this. And of course, thanks to author Steve Jackson for saving us 😁