Thunder and lightning: check. Creaky old house: check. Naive young guests: check. Creepy sisters: check. We are firmly in the territory of horror tropes (ones that even a massive wimp like me can recognise), and yet what Jakop Ahlbom Company have managed to do is make something fresh, funny and downright astonishing out of these well-worn ideas.
Horror is part of the mime festival but is presented at Sadler’s Well’s Peacock Theatre, known for its dance performances. This is sort of neither and both – there’s some screaming, there’s some laughing, there’s some dancing, but it’s not totally a mime piece or a dance piece. In fact, the choreographed dances are probably the weakest parts of what is generally a fantastic show.
Apart from a stonking climactic sequence right at the end, which is choreographed to violent perfection, the dance parts of this performance are fine but not startling. However, the rest of the piece is hugely impressive and features some of the best stage magic I’ve ever seen. A severed hand crawls around the stage unaided; a body is levitated and then the sheet is whisked away to reveal… nothing; a tiny woman is swallowed by a sofa; a man’s entrails are ripped out through his mouth. The effects are stupendous – six technicians are named in the programme, along with Rob Hillenbrink who designed the “special props and make-up”. They are very special indeed – I spent a large part of the evening muttering “how did they do that?” to myself and anyone else who would listen.
Horror plays with shock value very cleverly, subverting expectations just enough of the time to keep you on the edge of your seat. At one point, the Peacock Theatre’s air con on the back of my neck nearly gave me a heart attack. As mentioned above, I am not the most robust when it comes to horror but this is a genuinely scary show. Judicious use of disquieting soundscapes, eerie music and sudden loud noises (Wim Conradi with Bauke Moerman) means you can’t relax, and there are lots of sudden blackouts and flashes of light to reveal scenes of carnage or horror. The jump-cut style blackouts are perhaps slightly overused, and the music/sound is a tad waring at times, but Horror is mostly perfectly judged to be properly frightening.
It’s also very funny, both in its nods to classic horror films (The Exorcist, The Ring, Poltergeist, The Shining, to name just the ones this horror novice picked up on) and in its character interactions. Guessing who will be the last one standing keeps things interesting, plot-wise, and the introduction of hapless new characters halfway through is a good idea. The story is pretty heavy-handed, in terms of revealing why the creepy, homicidal sisters are haunting the creepy old house and preying on unwary visitors, but it’s so entertaining that this is easily overlooked.
Horror gets a bit too convoluted around the middle, and could do with being a shade shorter, just to ensure that its manic energy doesn’t drop. These small quibbles don’t detract, though, from what is a visceral, exciting and extremely clever show.
Horror was part of London International Mime Festival 2016. For more information, click here.