Coming over the moors like your best worst Hammer Horror nightmare come true, Kill The Beast are back, and they’re holding their sharpened pitchforks high. Roaring onto the UK theatre scene last year with 2013’s best new comedy, their howlingly grotesque take on Tom Baker’s The Boy Who Kicked Pigs – reviewed here – they’ve returned with a horror story all their own, and a combination of razor-clawed humour and lunatic narrative ambition sees it well on the way to topping that stunning debut.
Two shows in and you can spot Kill The Beast a mile off. A gloomy baroque filigreed with faded and decrepit chunks of mouldy English bric-a-brac, their shows are mini-masterpieces of tonal consistency and whip-smart detail. This year, the black and white expressionist world they created for Boy Who Kicked Pigs has snapped into nicotine-stained 70’s colour, as the team tell the story of a town terrorised by a hairy-handed beast.
The folk-horror world of Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Wicker Man and Pertwee-era Doctor Who provides the palette, and it’s a superb alternative to the Struwwelpeter-Gothic of their first show. Fans of Amicus anthologies and Tigon terrors will be in their element, and flecks of the great British cop drama complete the tribute to the golden age of brown furniture, coven-infested villages and ubiquitous heavy smoking.
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs was gloriously inappropriate, but Kill The Beast set their gruesome stall out shockingly early in He Had Hairy Hands, with a wincingly funny backstage abortion scene, and it’s a more generally adult and uncompromising tale that they play out this year. Once again their humour owes plenty to the heritage of League of Gentlemen, The Mighty Boosh and The Penny Dreadfuls, but also a sense of them testing the boundaries of their own approach and aesthetic. Kill The Beast inhabit a half-remembered hodge-podge of the past, where green mould creeps over every piece of faded inelegance and cultural bric-a-brac. It’s the humour of hauntology, borough-buddies with Scarfolk Council, and its lightness of touch belies a rich knowledge and warm affection for the history of British comedy and horror cultures.
The (fucking) ballsy abortion scene is a (very) early highlight, but almost every scene would make a delicious stand-alone sketch in its own right. The burgeoning romance between a hapless local bobby and a shy, wilting mortician; ingeniously staged encounters between gossiping dog-walkers; a show-stopping burst of exorcism aerobics in a crumbling Scout hut – they’re deeply weird and stacked with fantastic one-liners and well-drawn characters. The whole company excels, but Zoe Roberts’ monster hunter extraordinaire Whitechapel, steals every scene she strides through.
Where Boy Who Kicked Pigs wore its (a)morality story origins on its sleeve, telling a small story but telling it immaculately, He Had Hairy Hands sets its sights on a more complex location-hopping narrative. At its best it’s a triumph of home-spun hutzpah, including a globe hopping montage that seems to take its cue from Steven Moffat’s recent kink for elaborate, improbable into sequences in both Sherlock and Doctor Who. There are definitely places in which a few more turns of the spanner are needed to tighten the narrative and avoid confusion, but it’s still a developing show, and at any rate, it’s a small price to pay for the increased scope and scale that Kill The Beast are reaching for. Far from resting on their laurels, instead they’ve hung them on the local vicar and burned him to death in an abandoned mill. It would do the company a disservice to reveal too much about the plot, but it’s a testament to their skills as comic performers that things stay on the rails as well as they do during Hairy Hands’ break-neck, twist-riven final act.
It was partly the holistic approach to quality control that made Boy Who Kicked Pigs such a joy, and it’s amply recreated here. The projected backdrops, animated by Alex Purcell from hand-constructed box-sets created by Brian Woltjen and Clem Garritty, are as beautiful and witty as ever, as are the horrific costumes from Rachel Schofield Owen and Nina Scott. Crimp fans (the music, not Martin) will also be overjoyed by new earworm ‘Everyone’s Aware There’s a Werewolf’ and composer Ben Osborn contributes plenty of suitably queasy scoring.
A touch more grooming’s required before the Kill The Beast hoist their monster up to the Fringe, but it’s clear already that He Had Hairy Hands is another gloriously depraved chiller that exceeds the high expectations this topping company have so rapidly built for themselves.