Re:View – ‘Terror 2010’

London, The Arts

Hallowe’en allows a variety of dodgy entertainments to be foisted on the public – as the event grows in importance in the UK and starts to eclipse Guy Fawkes Night, which has no merchandising possibilities, we look for fun things to do around that time. Southwark Playhouse, a wonderful damp-reeking venue in a railway arch under London Bridge Station, staged a set of terror plays last year that were apparently excellent. I missed those but was determined to go this year.

On the bill were slices of creepy cabaret and four plays, the first two by well-known scripters, so expectations ran high. The lights went down and the evening went to Hell, and not in a good way.

First up was a dismal embarrassment by Mark Ravenhill, who from this opener appears never to have read a horror story in his life. Two men go into the woods, one may be a murderer or a mutant, or maybe the other is, and a bunch of ‘Thriller’-like zombies stutter-dance their way across the stage with buckets of body parts. Then we got a dimly-lit monologue about pedophiles from Neil LaBute which felt like a public service radio announcement.

Absorbing the fallout from these disasters was a Goth belly-dancer and a nurse singing about the dead and the dying. In the second half there was tame psychodrama involving a dead husband and a wife-turned-killer, and then the main event – a much longer piece offering a back-to-basics version of HP Lovecraft’s ‘Reanimator’. This started terrifically and had some excellent touches, but finally fizzled away as the story left Herbert West’s laboratory for the war-torn fields of Flanders.

What went so wrong? The actors were uniformly terrific and put their hearts into it, but the selection of fright pieces was misguided, with Ravenhill and LaBute especially failing to understand the structure and demands of genre fiction. It’s not as easy as it looks and (as here) is prone to cliche – check out the collected plays of Anthony Neilson to see it done properly.

So, a great shame and a missed opportunity. Weak direction meant that the audience did not know when the plays were over, and as the cast didn’t come out to take applause at the end, we filed out in bewildered silence.

2 comments on “Re:View – ‘Terror 2010’”

  1. Porl says:

    Totally agree with these sentiments, I sawit last night too. Such as shame as last years were excellent – and (at a time when Dyson’s Ghost Stories are running in London – I really wanted these to be successful, to show that great theatre of that genre can be achieved without high profile collaborations, or expensive sets.
    A real shame this time round….

  2. Helen Martin says:

    You’re right about the difficulty of writing well in that genre. When you announced your contest I made several attempts at writing something but either the ideas were not original or the plot wouldn’t work or I couldn’t make it believable. If the authors had given their scripts to someone who knew the genre they might have been spared last night’s embarrassment, either that or they’ll have to develop a better valuation of their own writing.

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