Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Horror - Canberra Theatre

Review by John Lombard

Stage horror often opts for a slow build-up, with chillers like Ghost Stories and The Woman in Black patiently building tension before unleashing their brief but potent scares.

Creator Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror by contrast is refreshingly bold, with even the first minutes of the play unleashing multiple scares.

This haunted house tale has intruders to a forgotten house tormented by three ghosts: a gaunt puritan couple and their lank-haired daughter, a fusion of The Ring and the painting American Gothic.

Horror’s influences are cinematic, with key moments from The Ring, The Exorcist, and Poltergeist lifted straight from film.  Not only is a glowing closet a key centre of interest, but the spider-walking daughter even pops up on a haunted television.

A lot of the interest in Horror comes not from the freshness of the content, but seeing how familiar tricks of cinematic horror can be performed before a live audience with adroit stage magic and nimble performers.

With the play performed in mime, the audience is left to fill in the blanks.  Some sequences may have been intended to come across as hallucination or memory, but the ghosts have such visceral presence from the start of the play that we never doubt their substance.

However the nonverbal world is haunting because it creates a dream-like quality where it is literally impossible for the characters to call out for help.

The play builds rapidly towards a satisfying finale, before a natural resolution is thwarted by the addition of two new characters.  From there, the play becomes a macabre magic show, and culminates in a surreal, dance-like finale that felt uncomfortably like a sequence from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But while Horror’s story falters, this carefully crafted and elaborate production is a relentless spectacle: as much as it fails to evoke fear, it successfully creates terror.

Bold in ambition, Horror brings the modern horror movie successfully to the stage.