Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Christmas Sorority Massacre

Craig Hepworth, Stuart Reeve
Vertigo Theatre Productions
Three Minute Theatre, Manchester

Christmas Sorority Massacre

It’s been an award-winning year for Vertigo and one which clearly showed its versatility with productions such as M, a fine homage to film noir, and a powerful tale of sexual abuse in Mysterious Skin.

its latest work is a brilliant part-homage, part-pastiche inspired by the slasher and exploitation movies of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Set in a college sorority, this violent romp is an excellent excuse to reference many classic horror films. It does this with Vertigo’s trademark stage brio and also given the proximity to Christmas an enjoyably pantomimic element.

In case you don’t get all the references, there is a helpful guide in the programme to keep you right. I spotted those ranging from Scream to Poltergeist and also a brilliant nod to Psycho.

The basic premise is six teens come under attack from a masked killer but it is established early on that the victims are unable to leave the house. Some of these characters are men in drag, which is where the pantomime element enters. There is both gay and straight lust skilfully sent up as this genre is mainly about physically attractive young people being brutally slayed in increasingly inventive scenarios.

Although the comic energy is very well sustained, overall I felt the first half was perhaps just a little too long and that there could have been more gore in it.

I saw the production the night before press preview. While there were no signs that the cast had just learned a completely new 11 pages due to a major rewrite—a huge tribute to their professionalism—the second half does feel a bit less tightly focussed. There is perhaps too much of the rather inevitable characters screaming their dialogue at each other and occasional bland staging. This is certain to settle down as the run develops.

Some of my favourite moments from the many include a lovely send up of the "Just Want to Make Love to You" advert, laugh-out-loud comic humping—both gay and straight—and the bizarrely self-referential lip-synched dance routines. These are set to songs such as Madonna’s "Borderline", Bonnie Tyler’s "Holding Out for a Hero" and, perhaps the most successful of all, a very lengthy and lively "One Way or Another" from Blondie.

As for performances: well, we really are spoiled for choice. No one can do send-up dumb blonde like Dale Vicker, comic frustration the way Ciara Tansey does, or ditzy reasoning par excellence like co-director Adele Stanhope.

Also enjoyable are Richard Allen’s hunk trying and failing not to be gay, David Edward Lock’s geeky nerd and the crazy, mixed-up love object portrayed by newcomer Joe Mallalieu, who makes a memorable professional debut.

The stand-out is Michael Gates making a return to the part of Sandra Lee having created the role in the original production in 2011. His facial expressions are sublimely grotesque. If you add in the ghoulish Mrs Franks rendered by co-writer Stuart Reeve, it’s quite a heady mix.

My favourite belly laugh is not from the gross-out selection, of which there are a lot in evidence, but a throwaway from Adele Stanhope’s character. When she hears at one point that the phone is dead, she wails, "oh god, they killed the 'phone".

I have not yet seen a production use drapes at Three Minute Theatre, and they are cleverly employed both offering an extra playing area but also for very effective comic and scary silhouette work.

It was slightly off-putting, alas, that as the cast were giving of their best certain patrons had to go through the drapes to visit the facilities.

You also need to note that there is a lot of bad language, crude but hilarious gross sexual banter and partial male nudity. Writer-director Craig Hepworth clearly knows his target audience and once again has pulled off a suspenseful yet very funny production.

One unexpected and pleasing by-product of seeing this show, however, is that I shall never again be able to watch Kate Winslet and Leo De Caprio in Titanic without smirking.

Reviewer: Andrew Edwards