Theatre Review: Hall @ Hornsey Town Hall

By Hazel Last edited 101 months ago
Theatre Review: Hall @ Hornsey Town Hall

The instruction was: meet at Crouch End Clock Tower with specific items to hand. At the signalled time, we pressed play on our .mp3 player and we entered Hall, a breath-taking new production by 19;29. Disclosing the secret location won't spoil anything - indeed, we may only increase interest - so we're happy to tell you that the intricately detailed audio guide takes you to Hornsey Town Hall, into the psyche of this grand, haughty 1930s Modernist building, empty since the 1980s.

Each audience member has an audio guide and an entry time; Hall is very much an individual experience. The audio guide instructions must be strictly followed, and intriguing tips are mixed in ("don't let him see you... stay absolutely quiet"), lending narrative intrigue and mystery to the experience. There's a formal council meeting, bursts of violence, a rotten banquet and a piano concert. There's a room that doesn't appear on the plans but is definitely in the building. The slippery, dream-like feel to Hall alternates between threatening and romantic. Credit must be given to the enormous amount of planning and to-the-second synchronisation of cues, audio guides and action - how it's all done part of the wonderful mystery.

It is VERY important to have as full power in your .mp3 player, at least an hour of continuous play. Though there are contingencies for player failures, nothing can repair the broken spell if you have to scrabble around in the dark trying to make a dead iPod come back to life, while the story continues without you. Once you're charged up and in the building, do not press pause, do not skip backward or forward. Just do as your told; enter Hall to find out the importance of obedience and the consequences of not following the rules.

Hall by 19;29 at Hornsey Town Hall. For more information and to book a place, go to the 19;29 website.

Last Updated 20 November 2009


I saw HALL today.

Now as an avid fan of promenade theatre - with the likes of Punchdrunk and The Goat and Money productions - I was keen to experience HALL. But I was disappointed. Not because of the setting, or design, or execution, but because the experience does not add up to anything of substance, either lowbrow (simple story or mystery uncovered) or more highbrow (say, the meaning of administration architecture in an age of CCTV).

We received two tracks - one was to be heard en route to the performance, and the other during the performance. I am aware that I did not get to see all of the scenes as there are 22 possible recordings (each audience member gets a letter than he wears on around his neck so the actors know which track he/she is listening to) so I never got to see the council meeting or the rotten banquet. That's the same with Punchdrunk who would run endless number of scenes simultaneously. But Punchdrunk always made sure that the concept suggests the atmosphere and the design, and merely drowning you in "atmosphere" is not enough of an excuse for such a production. Here I met the designer, the hidden corridor was mentioned, I got a freedom pass (for what?) and was given artefacts that I was to hand over (a pawn, a cube) but was never given the chance to use. and in the end we are all thrown down the basement and are told to find our way out. The heroine mentioned in the prologue is never fully explained ("she rules the street"), the corridor mystery is never explained, and the room with the fans hanging from the celling where I stood for 5 minutes added nothing to any of that.

I left feeling cheated. It was an elaborate ploy to get me to feel weird stuff, chilling atmosphere, but it had no real idea behind it, at least none that made sense in the end. Especially empty in its meaning was the part where you are asked to put on gloves and to wait across from a room where the "designer" (away from your view) is beaten up by a woman (we only hear his screams and the bashing) while the "Jenny", who narrates the recordings, goes on about power, degree and a lot of blah blah that makes no sense, evidently on purpose.
So if you are up for an hour of experimental theatrical experience that is akin to a video game where you play the lead (although you have NO choices, you are only following orders except in the last 4 minutes) - and is devoid of too much meaning, go ahead.

A few things though should be addressed:

1. It's hard to hear the MP3 track and at the same time act, speak and hear the actors who never know when you are actually hearing anything. In fact with good earphones it's impossible to hear them (mine are the in-ear type).

2. In the last minute we were asked to come dressed in business attire, which most people didn't follow - and bearing in mind that the environment you walk around is a bit dirty and dusty, and at times with obstacles - I wouldn't risk any of my suits for the event.

3. I missed the background music/humm that Punchdrunk have in their productions (sorry but they are still the best in town; now in Boston... :-( ). THAT gives such an eerie feeling, that the silence in HALL does not make up for.

4. And lastly - meaning. It could have been a very narrow one, but the lack of it is really disappointing.


I went last night and thought it was amazing. So atmospheric and scary. I want to go again - we all do. I got so wound up with the unexected nature of everything I screamed when someone walked up behind me. Convincing acting, amazing building and thoughtful props. Loved it.