Posts Tagged ‘Stewart Pringle’

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.)

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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.)

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.)