Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Horror for Wimps

Written and performed by Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding
Lip Service/Greenwich Theatre
Theatre Royal, York
(2005)

Production photograph

Having had their wicked way with the works of Conan Doyle, Homer and the Brontë sisters, Lip Service now unleash their talents on an entire genre. No cliché is safe as the dynamic duo, armed only with director Mark Chatterton, some very clever film sequences and multiple costume changes, pay tribute to four decades worth of horror flicks.

The spookiness begins when bespectacled technology buff Keith (Maggie Fox) decides to spice up his relationship with Jeannette (Sue Ryding). What could be more likely to rekindle the flames of passion than a massive LCD telly and a DVD of The Talisman, a cult British horror film from the 50s? But things go hideously wrong when Keith, still wearing the anorak in which he was probably born, is sucked into the film and has to cope with a mad archaeologist and his hysterical wife (both played by Sue Ryding, who also appears as the couple's demon-infested daughter). Just to add to the complications, the Talisman household also boasts a TV set and the BBC is broadcasting the 30s classic Mother of the Bride of Frankenstein

Despite a few treasurable moments the show isn't one of the duo's best. James Whale, Mel Brooks and The Rocky Horror Show have proved that there is a thin dividing line between horror and comedy - do we really need another demonstration?

It's no accident that the funniest and most successful parts of the show have absolutely nothing to do with horror. Fox and Ryding are at their best when they send up the ludicrous cut-glass vowels and stilted acting that characterised British films and TV in the 50s. The days when men were men and women spoke like the Queen on helium live again in all their sublime awfulness, and Maggie Fox's cameo as a plummy-voiced children's TV presenter is a little gem.

The Frankenstein film sequences created by Kevin Wrench and Andrew Franks, which lovingly recreate the look of Universal's 30s classics, are quite remarkable. The angry mobs, cackling peasants and captive Monster (Matthew Vaughan, curiously touching even in drag) wouldn't be out of place in a James Whale production. It's a pity that the need to drag the appropriately monstrous telly on and off stage causes such irritating breaks in the narrative, and that the show's reliance on pre-recorded material means that there is little room for Lip Service's trademark ad libs, collapsing scenery and fits of giggling. Plenty of corpses, in fact, but not enough corpsing.

The final verdict has to be that, although Fox and Ryding generate plenty of electricity, Horror For Wimps lacks the vital spark that could have raised it to Lip Service's usual high standard.

At the Theatre Royal, York, until 3rd December, then touring to Preston, Manchester, Winchester, Huddersfield, Portsmouth, Mansfield, Lancaster, Durham and Cheltenham. Tour ends 11th March 2006

Reviewer: J. D. Atkinson