Northcott Theatre, Exeter
This technically innovative, quirky tale of ghosts and darkness is a very clever piece of theatre.
Drawing on horror films of the '80s (and I am sure those who have watched them will find nods and motifs galore), Ryan Simons has created the first ghost story combining multimedia screen action with live stage performance. Actually, it is more horror than ghost as Herbert (War Horse’s Alex Moran) revisits his childhood—a time full of darkness and nightmares, dysfunctional family relationships and painful memories.
Having been dragged up in a spooky former music hall where the spirits of the dead were summoned and their souls trapped within the walls, Herbert is back for a thrilling midnight performance. His whiskey-breath, horror film fanatic father Joseph Carter (Hollyoaks) and broken volatile mother Chloe Proctor (Emmerdale) made a living showing scary movies while the young Herbert escaped his locked room to watch. With his only hope of redemption Father Karras, Chris Blackwood (Tea with the Reaper), scared to death, Herbert’s fate is sealed and any happy ending shot down in flames.
Running at just 90 minutes, it seems a shame to have tossed in an interval which breaks the building tension and creates a play of two halves: the first being scene-setting, slightly hammy and perhaps pedestrian (or pastiche) while the second is superbly unsettling as Herbert’s memories overwhelm, special effects proliferate and John Bulleid (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) conjures illusions to disturb and scare.
Add a ventriloquist’s dummy, Justin Williams’s atmospheric set, gloomy lighting by Joe Price and Beth Duke’s ubiquitous chilling soundscape, be ready for unexpected loud noises, footsteps behind you and plenty of darkness. Not for the faint-hearted (or those with tinnitus).
Reviewer: Karen Bussell