Performance review: Mysterion: Descent Into Hades, Hellenic Museum

An immersive, interactive production where the audience has to undergo quests to unlock the secrets of immortality.
A crouching crowd all in black wearing gold masks.

Putting Mysterion: Descent Into Hades into a “theatre” category may be a bit confusing for people who see normal theatre. Billed as “responsive theatre”, it’s essentially a four-hour long LARP (live action role-playing game). Once you work out that, the whole experience will make a lot more sense (and be vastly more enjoyable). 

You arrive at the gates of the Hellenic Museum on William Street in Melbourne, dressed in “black tie”, as per instructions given to you prior to arrival. The story is that you’re part of a secret society and there is a special meeting about to commence.

White mask-wearing members of your secret society check you in and provide you with a guide to the ritual, some riddles to solve throughout the night, the rules of the game (try to be fun to play with, don’t touch people without seeking consent first and just generally try not to be a jerk) and a mask to wear throughout the night. There are gold masks for the “Mistai” (those who pay $40 more for their ticket), black for the “Initiates” (everyone else). 

The Mistai are given the privilege of entering the experience first, brought to the front and asked to participate in certain rituals ahead of the Initiates.

The set-up for the game involves being guided into a floral-decorated outdoor pavilion at the back of the Hellenic Museum by the society’s High Priest and Priestess. The audience (or players) become involved in a group ritual to bring forth gods of Ancient Greek mythology, Hades (god of the Underworld) and Persephone (daughter of Zeus and Demeter and, as Hades’ wife, Queen of the Underworld) for our ultimate goal: to learn the secrets of immortality. 

Hades and Persephone arrive, and it’s clear they are in the midst of a lovers’ tiff – Hades wants Persephone to spend her time in the Underworld, while Persephone wants to be able to spend time in the mortal realm. And she has had enough of men telling her what to do. They separate, and Persephone remains with her Nymphs in the pavilion, which acts as the world of mortals, while Hades heads into the Hellenic Museum – which becomes the Underworld.

As members of the secret society, we can pass freely between worlds for the duration of the night, as we try to solve our puzzles, talking with the immortals and gods of the Ancient Greek world along the way.

Mysterion: Descent into Hades is the brainchild the Hellenic Museum, which has worked with Medusa RPG – a group that specialises in creating LARPs – to bring to life the history and mythology of Ancient Greece. And the collaboration is a stroke of brilliance.

Opening up the Museum, and gamifying the experience of the overall objective of “learning the secrets of immortality”, allows the audience to have conversations with Persephone and Hades, help the lovers Orpheus and Eurydice reunite, speak with Hecate and Hermes, travel across the Styx with Charon, play with Dionysus, try to cure the curse placed on Achilles by Zeus and learn wisdom from Iris.

It’s immensely fun, and the games have been well-thought out to mean that there’s always something to do – and you’re (nearly always) on a totally different quest from the other players, while still able to chat and collaborate with other players (which at times becomes vital to continue on your quest). 

There may be bottlenecks in the game at times, where you may find you need to speak with one of the characters who has a long line of people also trying to speak with them. Talking to peripheral characters like Hades’ Shades (blue-tinged ghost-like attendants) may solve the problem – so don’t forget to chat with those minor characters too. 

It is also a wonderful experience to be able to wander around the ancient artefacts on display at the Hellenic Museum. And for those who are a bit rusty on their Greek mythology – never fear. In one room, one of the Museum’s curators is there to share stories that help bring to life the rich tapestry of day-to-day life, and the culture and values of the Ancient Greek world, as well as show you some ancient artefacts up close. For anyone curious and interested to learn about the rich history and the fascinating mythology of Ancient Greece – it couldn’t really be a more enjoyable way to do it. 

You’re also given tokens and you can collect items that you need to use throughout the game – which you are able to trade with other players. 

While you may walk in expecting a curated experience of progressive scenes to encounter, you may not be quite prepared for how much of a true game Mysterion: Descent into Hades is. The performers are skilled improvisers, with qualities, characteristics, knowledge to share and problems to overcome, in the style of Dungeons & Dragons game characters.  

As a player, you’re also able to develop your own character and play as that character throughout the game. On the night ArtsHub attended, one player (of about 30 years of age) seemed to have decided he was a rich grumpy old British aristocrat with a severe limp, and impressively kept up his character for the whole night.

Photo: Supplied.

This experience is not for everyone – if you like sitting in a theatre in the dark and observing drama from a distance, Mysterion: Descent Into Hades will likely prove too much work, and about two hours too long. But if you are the adventurous sort, enjoy problem-solving with a good dash of Ancient Greek mythology thrown in – and perhaps are even attracted to the idea of actually becoming part of the action yourself – Mysterion: Descent Into Hades may just be the ambrosia you’re looking for. 

As it’s only on for one more show, it’s to be hoped that Mysterion comes back, allowing more people to experience it. But perhaps in the warmer weather of spring or summer – when Persephone’s mortal realm of flowers would make for a much more pleasant visit. Do bring a coat!

Mysterion: Descent Into Hades is an inspired, ambitious and highly successful example of how cultural institutions can open up their spaces to reach and engage with new audiences in a completely different way. 

Mysterion: Descent Into Hades
Hellenic Museum, Melbourne

Medusa RPG
Director and Producer: Sandy Whittem
Director and Experience Design Lead: Jack Nolan
Experience Designer and Props: Fyodor Krasniy
Experience Designer: Caitlin Finnerty

Experience Designer: Will Ackroyd
Experience Designer: Nellie Seale
Stage Manager: Celina Mack
Sound Tech: David Williams
Game Master: Joe Jackson

Hellenic Museum
Event Co-Producer and Historical Adviser: Tobias Fulton
Museum Director: Sarah Craig
Marketing, Communications and Design Manager: Lily Hawkins

Skyship Studios
Lead Costume Design and Coordinator: Sámhlaoch Swords
Costume Designer & Technician: Anna Mooy 

Cast: Josiah Lulham, Sandy Whittem, Jack Nolan, Tess Monash (5 July), David Harris (13 July), Jess Lu, Jett Chudleigh, Joe Jackson, Callum Stewart Grant, Tim Sneddon, Frazer Shepherdson, Hugo Gutteridge, Lake Majstorovic, Chris McComb, Sámhlaoch Swords, Tang (Caitlyn Finnerty), Fyodor Krasniy, Nick Wolf, Davey Seagle, Anna Mooy

Mysterion: Descent Into Hades will be performed again on 13 July 2024.

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen