Posts Tagged ‘As Ye Sow’

Review – The Ghost Hunter – Theater of the Damned at Old Red Lion Pub

May 12, 2013

Stewart Pringle distinguished himself as author of the horror short “As Ye Sow,” which stood out amongst its B-movie brethren at a night of short Guignol/esque plays like a real corpse mixed in with the waxworks. So I was excited to get an invite to see his latest work, The Ghost Hunter, at the conveniently located Old Red Lion pub theater, and said yes without really bothering to read any of the publicity materials. I’d guess it might be spooky, and who would want to ruin the fun with an ill timed spoiler?

I really didn’t know a thing, even about the venue, which is tiny (it seats about 50). Feel free to bring your drinks in: while there’s no place to put them, the show only runs an hour, and as you watch ghost hunter Richard Barraclough (Tom Richards) put away a pint of Abbot, you’ll feel drawn to join in. Me, after an incredibly stressful week at work, well, I thought a double vodka cran was the way to go; it could only heighten the effect, right?

So now it’s time to get down to the review, and I find myself torn about how much to reveal. I loved the feeling of walking into a darkened room with a man in Victorian costume waiting quietly for us, eyes downturned, only to become animated as the lights dimmed; it seemed like a very good start to the evening. But … his pint glass has a label on it: how anachronistic! And yet … well, not, because as it turns out, Barraclough is actually the leader of ghost tours in modern York. I was a bit disappointed, as I liked the idea of a Victorian fright drama: you know, The Lady in Black is back!

But what we have to think about is what is really frightening, and, to me, a tale separated by 150 years is very easy to put out of mind when you walk away. Our Ghost Hunter spends a lot of his time talking about his work and where the tales that he tells originate, and much of it is quite … well, not banal, but rooted in normalcy. He’s clearly a good tale spinner, and you can see him working his magic as he ma)es the fluff he spins into cobwebs for his punters come to life.

However … at some point the barrier between our comfortable existence and a more uncomfortable possibility starts to come down, and by the end of the show, I can guarantee your hair will be standing on end and your heart will be aching for Barraclough’s terror. Much as in The Weir, Pringle takes the campfire ritual of the ghost story and turns it into a glimpse of a parallel, paranormal reality. Mmmm and brrr. In many ways, it was a thrill to walk out of this dark room, chilled to the bone, and into the late spring sunlight and Islington’s high street, and back into the comfortable assurance that “none of that is real, is it?” Because for a certain period of time, you, as a playgoer, will be convinced that it was.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 10, 2013. It continues through May 25th.)

Review – Revenge of the Grand Guignol – London Horror Festival at Courtyard Theatre

November 3, 2011

Some two months ago, a friend coming to visit from New York said she wanted to see some scary theater while she was in town (what with it being Halloween and all), and she thought she’d found just the ticket: Revenge of the Grand Guignol, part of the London Horror Festival. Given my positive experience with the “Theatre of Horror” at the Southwark Playhouse two years back and my longstanding love affair with Seattle’s Open Circle Theater’s annual Lovecraft Halloween show, I was all up for this, and fortunately the people running the festival were kind enough to sport me comps for the evening.

The night consisted of four shows: “The Laboratory of Hallucinations” (an update of an original Guignol show by de Lorde and Bauche), “As Ye Sow” (which I think is an original play, by Stewart Pringle, one of the directors of the show), “Hero” (by T.S. Richards, the other director, credited as inspired by “Au Telephone” by de Lorde), and “The Blind Women” (by Pringle, inspired by “Atelier d’aveugles” – Workshop of the Blind – by Descaves). The first show made me worried about the rest of the evening – the acting was ham-fisted and like a very bad B movie – but when they stopped with the plot and got on with the horror, I found myself on the edge of my seat. Oddly despite the theme – let’s say that surgery was involved – there was actually very little blood. This held true for all of the evening, despite about 6 deaths through a variety of means (strangling, hammer, drill, two knives, and possibly a saw). This is NOT what they promised in the press release, but to be honest I found it a relief.

The first show was followed almost immediately by “As ye Sow,” which I approached with caution but found to be the strongest of the night, ultimately as satisfying as Lucy Kirkwood’s “Psychogeography.” The story is about a man in a nursing home, and the thing that I found made it so satisfying is that all of the little things that just didn’t quite seem to be going right seemed to be just as likely to be his mind playing tricks on hinm as anything else. I was reminded of how the ultimate horror in the new, Lovecraftian world, is not of the devil taking your soul; it’s of losing your mind. And on both levels, “As Ye Sow” had all of the ingredients of succes. To top it off, it made me jump two feet straight up. Good job!

After an interval that practially demanded a double straight up, we came back for “Hero.” This play managed to do something I really love to see on stage – incorporating the technologies that are driving our interactions with each other these days (i.e. cellphones, IM, text messaging, Facebook, Skype, Twitter) and turn it into something that not just wound its way into the plot, but was used creatively to express communication happening in a non-play-standard way. To make it even more fun, it had a VERY dodgy sex scene that had me REALLY wondering what some of the stuff that came out of (insert location here) was meant for – and it built the tension remarkably. While I had a bit of a problem with … well, best not to share any details, but something was too fast. However, the ending was TOTALLY satisfying, not to mention I got a lot of laughs watching the lead actor continue to smoke as he helped rearrange the set.

The final play was “Workshop of the Blind,” and I was grateful for the seriously overdone makeup that helped me keep the fourth wall in place, because this was a real horror play, with mental abuse, torture, death of innocents, and just everything awful you could imagine not involving cannibalism. It built tension tremendously and, while the acting of the three blind women was (again) OTT, I found it served to enhance the mood of ultra-reality – sort of like the Bela Lugosi Dracula. I was cringing a bit in my seat at the end, but, overall, I couldn’t help but feel that in everyway I got what I came for, as the evening had me scared, horrified, and, ultimately, feeling very much glad to be alive as I walked out into the night. Overall, I’d say this was an evening of terror theater well worth seeing.

(This review is for a perfomance that took place on November 1st, 2011. Running time was 2:10 including interval. It continues through November 27th.)