Supernatural detective Eglantine Whitechapel is a woman on a mission. Beckoned back from the wilderness to the sleepy village of Hemlock-under-Lye, the citizens are relying on her to save them from the beast which has been stalking their wicked little corner of the moors.
Set in a world seething with the uncanny, unusual and the just plain odd, this is a piece of hugely entertaining and furiously paced knockabout noir from Kill The Beast, who are returning to the Fringe with another gruesomely macabre yarn following the success of The Boy Who Kicked Pigs in 2013.
Creating an extensive cast of village idiots, oddballs and lunatics the cast of He Had Hairy Hands have created a deliciously dark world which exists at the crossroads between Royston Vasey and Emmerdale Farm as imagined by Tim Burton.
The scout hut where we first meet the character of Whitechapel, along with the play’s numerous other locations, are created using a series of cartoon animations projected behind the performers and accompanied by subtle underscoring. There are a couple of cracking full company song and dance routines and the accompanying music, composed by Ben Osborn, is suitably eerie, the lyrics satisfyingly weird.
Throughout the show the choreography is simple and slick. A few basic props are manipulated to create new relationships with space and this approach is consistently clear and easy on the eye. In fact all the hard work is done by the company, who jerk, jolt and jump into a huge variety of amusing tableaux in order to express the world of the play. The writing is a delight too, the detective genre wrung for all it is worth and given an injection of wit. Reputation, Whitechapel quips, is like a bosom “keep it squeaky clean and heavily secured because it will always enter a room before you do”.
What really marks the show out, and exemplifies what the Fringe should be all about, is the amount of care that has gone into it. The creative team clearly has great affection for Hammer Horror and all of the bloody forebears referenced here and the cast is superb, revelling in this very British whodunit.
Staying so slavishly loyal to the tropes of the genre has its drawbacks at times and in the final third of the show, as the white face paint begins to streak with sweat, the performances understandably lose a little of their power. But this is classic Fringe stuff – fast, funny and inventive. Kill The Beast already has a strong and enthusiastic following. And rightly so, for He Had Hairy Hands is a hugely entertaining and imaginative show, beautifully executed.