Posts Tagged ‘London Horror Festival’

Review – The Shadow over Innsmouth – Hidden Basement Productions at the London Horror Festival

October 27, 2017

For me, the highlight of the program for this year’s London Horror Festival was always going to be The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which I had missed on its previous outing in 2015. I know, how could I have, yet with only two day runs for most of these shows, you really have to be on top of your schedule to get to see all of your best picks.

So as you probably know, I’m a Lovecraft fan of long running, or at least a fan of Lovecraft theater. I’m a big fan of the mythos Lovecraft created and really enjoy seeing how people take the source material and make it come alive. This is even more of a thought to me after adapting a Lovecraft work myself last year, but, honestly, I’m still just approaching this like a fan, but a theater fan first. I want to see a good play on stage. Would Hidden Basement deliver? Or would they be too faithful to the original and succeed in recounting the story without making a good play happen?

I’m pleased to report that this inventive company has taken a broad and emotionally satisfying approach to retelling this classic tale of horror. The key moments were covered: the bus ride; the strangeness of Innsmouth; the incident at the general store; the meeting with Zadok Allen; Zadok’s history of the town; the revelation of the narrator’s unexpected past. The fishiness of the folk was handled nicely through the use of puppets, as was the need of having other characters than could be managed just by Phillip North and Claire Matthews – at one point they put the narrator’s hat on top of a hanger and both had a conversation with it. Genius!

The overall feeling of this extremely funny show was one of a light touch with a heavy coat of humor and a tasteful selection of illustrative props (the crown being a touch of genius – its airy construction encouraging us to see the glories described to us – or perhaps entirely missing depending on how reliable you chose to find Robert Olmstead’s story). The Narrator was very obviously going mad … or, shall I say, feeling like he was going mad as he was attempting to adjust his thinking to a very new version of reality. I belly laughed when he started trying to have a conversation with the fish he’d been served for dinner … but how was I to know what was real and what was imagined? This constant struggle between the everyday reality and the intrusion of an external, malevolent reality surrounding our own was nicely illustrated by the rock solid practicality of the narrator’s bride, whose frustrating interactions with her increasingly less sane fiance were QUITE amusing. In short, Hidden Basement delivered a show that was both a winner as an hour long theater piece (it was tremendously engaging) and as a fresh take on a horror classic. With luck it will be revived again, as of the many Lovecraft adapations I’ve seen, this was one of the best.

(This is a review of a show that took place on October 17. 2017 at the Old Red Lion as a part of the

Review – Las Maravillas: the Lost Souls of Mictlan – The Dreamery at Rosemary Branch Theater

November 6, 2014

Now that it has closed, I can safely say that Las Maravillas was one of the most horrifying theatrical experiences I have had in years. Not frightening: tops for that is still Stewart Pringle’s “As Ye Sow”, but horrifying as in horrible, a la Fram or the monstrous 4:48 Psychosis Fourth Monkey put on some years back.

The concept was good: a Mexican look at horror, combining the Aztec mythos and Day of the Dead imagery. But there were troubles at the start: the entry times were quite vague, so people were being dumped in a queue and told they might have to wait over an hour to get in. With a premium ticket, you could skip this, but I sensed some very unhappy customers at the ticket desk.

My group was met at the entrance to the former archives at the Rosemary Branch building (in the basement) by an animal headed person who was, I think, meant to represent an Aztec god, possibly of the underworld. However, the effect of his pronouncements about the journey we were about to undertake was ruined by the people I was with – a group of giggling girlies who were there for someone’s birthday party. MISERY. I spent the entire evening hoping one of the “monsters” would drag them off, but no such luck.

What followed was a series of what I would call animated tableaux – set pieces with actors in them, sometimes telling us stories, sometimes putting on a performance for us to watch. Although clearly done on a limited budget, the various rooms were actually quite atmospheric – from the first one with its strobe lights and hanging dolls to my favorite, the spider queen’s room, with little web-wrapped morsels dangling from the ceiling.

However, the actual level of the performances was, in my eyes, at a drama school level or below. Both the blind story teller and the “forest killers” were overacting hams who utterly failed to convince me of what they were doing; to either frighten me or pull me in. It was the second or third night, so I think any jitters would have been overcome; and each piece was being done about eight times a night so there was certainly plenty of chance for getting it right. But nothing gelled. I was touched physically, I was whispered to, but all I was doing was walking around under a basement with a bunch of people in fancy dress. It just didn’t work. I felt it didn’t really take advantage of any of the deeper options of Mexican culture it could have hit; and, ultimately, I wound up disappointed, apologizing to the person who came with me for dragging them along. Ah well, at least it was short.

(This review is for a performance that took place on October 28, 20014. It is now closed.)

London 2013 Spooky Theater Roundup

October 31, 2013

After a brief discussion with some other theater bloggers, I’ve decided to do a SPOOKY THEATER SPECIAL for you guys out there in readerville. Do you want to get SCARED for Halloween? Read on …

If you’re looking for traditional chills and thrills, it’s the last night of the third annual London Horror Festival. Perhaps you might enjoy a modernized Fall of the House of Ushers? Poe is perfect for Halloween and I think making the lead characters conceptual artists provides all sorts of opportunities for creepiness. Get in!

If you want to be frightened by what might be, I’d suggest visiting the Suspense Festival of Puppetry, a multi-week event being put on by the good folks at the Little Angel Theater – puppetry but not for kids. Tonight I’m going to see The Fantasist, a show about bipolar disorder – something which can be deeply terrifying, especially if it’s happening to you. If you’d prefer a classic tale of terror, you might want to try Little Angel’s own Macbeth – not on tonight but still a good time.

How about being frightened at how justice can be perverted in a nation in which “all men are created equal?” Yep, I’m telling you straight, if you want to feel like your heart is being ripped out of your body, The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic is like being strapped on top of an Aztec pyramid and awaiting communion with the sun god, only with really great music.

Would you prefer a show in which you WISH for death to come? In that case, perhaps From Here to Eternity is your cup of tea. As the actors totter woodenly about on stage while hauling out yet another cliche, you’ll be thinking that being bombed would be a relief.

Finally, what is scarier than OLD AGE? Even if you hang on that long, the possibilities of ill health and dementia are terrifying. Nothing captures that feeling better than Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic, which at least has the comedy value of the producing company having the brass balls to charge people 65 quid a pop to watch this turkey. You’ll want to run away as if a wall of blood was chasing you down the aisles. And suddenly, even though puppets are scary to some people, I’m guessing that Macbeth is sounding better and better …

Preview – Third Annual London Horror Festival – Etcetera Theatre (through October 31st)

October 23, 2013

Well! It’s midway through the third annual London Horror Festival, and I thought it was a good time to have a catchup with co-founder Stewart Pringle about this year’s event. We sat down at Assa Korean Restaurant for a pint and a chat.

LCS: So how did this festival get started?
SP: I did a Grand Guignol show with Tom at uni, then we decided to try to do one in London. When we got into the Courtyard Theatre, we had some spare studio space, so we saw about bringing in a few more companies. Next thing you know, we had a festival.

LCS: I went to a few shows the first year – for me, Halloween is the perfect time for scary theater. How big is the festival this year?
SP: We had twenty-five companies apply this year and accepted fifteen, including an opera company! We had to see if they were compatible with what we had available in terms of size and space and length of run. We like to have lots of short runs and give people an opportunity to try things out and be experimental.

LCS: The playgoers or the producers?
SP: Both, really. Our festival is aimed at people who aren’t really theater goers, but maybe fans of horror cinema or lit. We try to keep the tickets very affordable. And we’ve expanded out to families as well, with the Zombie Science lectures (supported by the Wellcome Trust, by the way). But it’s also a place for playwrights and theatre companies to try out new things, maybe a show that hasn’t been performed before, or branching out into a different format.

LCS: You do seem to be really devoted to new writing.
SP: Five or six of the shows we’re doing this year are new. And of course we’ve got the radio play competition, that pulls in people who haven’t even done plays before, or maybe never had their works staged, and it gives them a life online. It’s just sad, you have the Brentwood Prize (for new play writing) with 100 plays on the long list, and maybe 12 of them will be done all of the next year in London. We prioritize new writing and things that have never been staged before. We’re passionate about it.

LCS: So what do you think is going to be the most popular this year? I’m of course looking forward to getting my Cthulu fix next weekend.
SP: Well, House of Nostril was a sell-out, and was also very popular at the Edinburgh Fringe. Upcoming still is What Monsters Do. It’s based on Nicolas Vince’s book of short horror stories. It’s already nearly sold out.

LCS: Ooh, when’s that?
SP: The 25th – 27th of October. It’s showing the same nights as Call of Cthulu.

LCS (marks info in calendar): So what are next year’s plans?
SP: We’re going to continue the partnership with the Et Cetera – we’ve looked at bigger venues but the price is high and cost is what makes it accessible to smaller companies. And, of course, we’re going to continue to prioritize the staging of new works.

LCS: Good to hear. The last thing we need is another celebrity casting of some Shakespeare play.
SP: That’s a fact.

(The London Horror Festival continues at the Et Cetera theater in Camden – over the Oxford Arms, near the Camden Tube station – through October 31st, 2013.)

Mini-review – Grand Guignol “Summer of Terror” – Exeter Alternative Theate at London Horror Festival

October 22, 2013

Autumn has rolled into town, and along with fallen leaves and pumpkins, it’s time for the LONDON HORROR FESTIVAL! I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to catch an annual dose of frights, especially to see the now-out-of-fashion Grand Guignol plays. The “Summer of Terror” triple bill from Exeter Alternative Theater looked especially promising – two classics AND a new play, and a running time of one hour, plus it was in a pub so you could bring in drinks – basically, perfect – in and out and if it all got too scary, I knew I’d be able to hold out long enough for it to wrap up.

The plays had some common themes between them – rage, revenge, infidelity – that made for some interesting thoughts on the common threads of human motivations. Grand Guignol can be about mad scientists working in laboratories or the ghosts of serial killers, but what’s really terrifying is how the behavior of normal human beings can snap under certain kinds of pressure. In the first playlet, “The Last Kiss,” “he” (for so the male lead is called) has clearly gone round the bend some time before the curtain rose. “He” (Leigh Steadman) is blinded, but still has an overwhelming desire to his ex-lover, despite the fact that “she” (Carolyn Macey) blinded him. You know it’s not going to have a happy ending, but just how bleak is it going to go? I would have preferred Steadman to have dialed down “his” madness a bit, so we were sucked into the turnings of his mind, but I thought Macey was on as the dead-eyed girlfriend who couldn’t resist the call of curiosity – and maybe still had a fire burning for the man she injured in a fit of jealousy. And, to be clear, she was stunningly beautiful, exactly the kind of girl you could imagine “him” pining for and desperately trying to get back. Fin O’Leary’s landlady provided a lovely touch of normality to the whole business, which was over and done with before I’d made it to the bottom of my half of cider.

Next up was “Coals of Fire” (which, like “Last Kiss,” was written by Frederick Witney), a two-hander featuring a blind woman (“The Wife”) and her servant (“The Companion”). Taking place in an era in which divorce required proving fault, social services for the disabled were sketchy (as seen by the previous playlet), and unmarried women could be forced to have babies in “homes,” the play was fraught with the pressures both of personal lives and social norms. I found it extremely disturbing to see The Wife feel up The Companion to ascertain if her figure were good; but I also felt strongly the dilemma that any servant would have for being dismissed under questionable circumstances. The ending was brutal and apparently went against the original censor’s recommendations; but WHEW! It crackled! And while both characters seemed stiff at the start, I found myself relaxing into their conundrum quite naturally long before the end, which made for a much higher emotional impact.

Finally we got to the new play, “The Death of Love” (written by director Louis Ravensfield). It started with a highly improbably set up – a man and two women are stuck in a room together, tied to their chairs, and the man (Martin – Alan Smith) has to decide whom to shoot, his wife (Julia – Gabby Dexter) or his lover (Becky – Nicky Crew). It seemed rather ridiculous – I mean, really, how did NONE of them know how they got there (and this was never really resolved) – but, really, it was all just a trope to get us into the action. And it quickly grew very intense, as the women begged for their lives, cast aspersions on each other, and generally ratcheted up the pressure so much that even I was feeling Martin’s struggle. Where WAS it going to go? It ended with a twist and a bang, and, really, provided the biggest sizzle of the evening.

To be fair, there was a lot of clunkiness overall in this evening, but I still left feeling like I’d had a good time – neither too frightened nor in the least bored. Good job, Exeter Alternative Theater, and thanks for coming to London for a visit!

(This review is for a performance that took place at the Etcetera Theater in Camden on Sunday, October 19th, 2013. Final performances are tonight, October 21st, at 19:30 and 21:30. Do not order food unless you have at least a half hour to wait; the pub is VERY slow sserving.)

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.)

Preview – Dunwich Horror – Ororo Productions at the London Horror Festival

October 17, 2011

While poking around looking for fun theater stuff to do this Halloween, I was very excited to discover that there was going to be a production of a play based on a story by HP Lovecraft. Ooh! Shades of Open Circle Theater’s “HP Lovecraft Theater of Horrors,” one of a regular season of Halloween time eldritch/Cthonic shows! How could we Londoners be so lucky as to have our own All Souls’ spookiness? I tracked down David Dawkins of Ororo Productions and asked him for some answers in person.
Dunwich Horror Armatige
As I knew, Lovecraft never wrote any plays, and Dawkins has adapted this story himself. (It was also done as a radio play in 1945 but this version is not beholden to it.) It was originally done as a one-man show, but now has a cast of nine. Dawkins saw this story as ideal for the stage, as it’s more about “atmosphere and use of language” rather than buckets of blood. “It’s not about an immediate physical threat. The impact comes later. People shouldn’t be scared during the show but should be uncomfortable when they walk out. ” For him, the challenges of adapting it were actually “how you keep from turning it into a talk fest.” His approach was to look at it from a more Brechtian and Commedia dell’arte perspective – to focus on the relationships and movement and to “keep the humor intact.”

Dunwich Horror WizardNow, I’m a Lovecraft fan due to an obsession with tentacled gods, but what is it that sparks Dawkins’ interest in him? “Lovecraft had an a-religious mythos. He looked at science, positing other dimensions, vast univeres, creatures millions of years old. Before him the belief was that the world was very young. But he posited a future before mankind, a reality and a life we couldn’t understand. People were not ready for it at the time.” But these days, alternate universes that exist alongside us are commonplace in science fiction – in Gaiman’s Neverwhere, in Stross’ “Laundry Series” (which are extremely indebted to Lovecraft), and of course in Mieville’s recent Kraken. Our terror is no longer damnation; it’s losing our sanity. And this is the fear that lurks beneath Lovecraft’s writing for me – a terror that we may face any day. I can’t wait to see it from the safety of a seat in the audience.

(“The Dunwich Horror” is running from October 25th to November 6th as a part of the London Horror Festival. All shows will be at 9:30 PM.)