This year’s instalment of The Sticking Place’s annual Terror season – the ninth in total, the second at Soho Theatre – purportedly puts the emphasis on psychological horror, fears and phobias, the things that make our skin creep, our stomachs lurch, and the hairs on the back of our neck stand to attention.
The line-up consists of four short plays, by Robert Farquhar, Alex Jones, Mike McShane and Mark Ravenhill. The latter’s contribution, The Experiment, was previously seen during the 2009 Terror season and has been resurrected here as a last minute replacement for Darren Ormandy’s Horror Show – based on the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs murders in Ukraine – which has been dropped from the bill due to “issues with bringing the play to fruition.”
The plays are interspersed with cabaret sequences care of Sarah-Louise Young and Desmond O’Connor, and their rapport and engaging nature as hosts is the glue which holds this otherwise patchy collection together, creating some superficial sense of connection between the assembled plays.
Despite the ‘All in the Mind’ sub-header, the production relies on generous gouts of the red stuff to jolt a response out of the audience and there’s little here to really unsettle or unnerve despite a little bit of dabbling with an Ouija board. Of the plays, Robert Farquhar’s No Place Like is a shoulder-shrug of a thing about a man’s desire to erase his cluttered, middle class life along with his shrill blinkered wife, but it’s neither particularly tense nor angry and feels criminally stretched despite its short length. Mike McShane’s The Representative, a satirical skit set in a Los Angeles coffee shop, is more satisfying as a stand-alone piece: a washed up actor meets the ideal agent, a woman immune to the movie industry’s faddish and fickle nature, old Hollywood incarnate. While it builds to an all too easy punch-line, it’s still enjoyable.
Ravenhill’s The Experiment is probably the strongest piece of writing – evoking the full horror of animal experimentation via an intriguingly slip-slidey method of story-telling, like a half-recalled dream, the details dripping slowly forth – but because of its late addition to the bill, it’s performed script-in-hand, and while Oliver Senton’s delivery is decent, this dilutes its potential potency.
The programme also includes, somewhat randomly, a vaguely Louise Bourgeois-esque puppet spider sequence set to Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy – the work of Boris and Sergey creators, Flabbergast – which while visually striking feels as if it’s been stitched in, Frankenstein-style, from a completely different production.
The last play on the bill, Alex Jones’ Fifty Shades of Black, provides a neat commentary on the sudden vogue for S&M – thanks to that book – albeit in its most glossy and sanitised form, all Agent Provacateur undies and artful spanking. While the pay-off is predictable, it includes the most grisly and genuinely nasty moment of the evening, and the play itself – a two-hander which shifts nimbly from comedy to a more disturbing place – at least allows O’Connor and Young room to demonstrate their considerable range as performers.
In fact if it wasn’t for these two, the whole thing would be in danger of collapse. Their easy way with an audience, general quickness and wit compensate for the tonal wobbliness of the format. As a comedy cabaret the production has its moments, but otherwise it’s a timid affair and, despite all that puddling crimson, disappointingly bloodless.