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A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

The Courtyard and Theatre of the Damned present:

The London Horror Festival

 

Theatre of The Damned Presents

 

Revenge of the Grand Guignol

 

Co Writer & Co-Director: Stewart Pringle

 

Cor Writer & Co- Director: Tom Richards

 

Designer: Alice Saville

 

Lighting: Seb Blaber

 

Make Up Design: Arabella Clarke

 

Sound Design & Music: Corpse Lights

 

Courtyard Theatre

 

25 Oct – 27 Nov 2011

 
 

Horror comes to Hoxton this Winter with The Courtyard Theatre’s first season dedicated to chilling tales of the brutal and extraordinary. On the cusp of Halloween what better way to celebrate the macabre than a festival devoted to the dark arts of horror.

The evening’s atrocities kick off with The Laboratory of Hallucinations, by Andre de Lorde & Henri Bauche and adapted by Samuel Winthrop, TS Richards and Stewart Pringle. The Laboratory of Hallucinations is an excellent sample of the French genre of horror theatre known as Grand Guignol, which was highly popular at the turn of the 20th Century. It offered audiences gruesome plays of a highly disturbing nature, satisfying the public’s violent desires and blood lust.

In a dilapidated old building in the middle of nowhere, quintessential mad scientist, Dr Von Baildon (Ian Champion) is conducting nefarious experiments on the brains of unwitting patients. His wife Rohanna (Emma Jane Martin), however is plotting to escape from his clutches with the charming Mr De Lacey (Panny Skrivanos) who is intent on getting to the bottom of the Doctor’s suspicious experiments. That night they agree to meet in his Operating Theatre to uncover what is really going on in there.

The Laboratory of Hallucinations is a terrifying piece of fantasy, which will appeal to anyone who enjoys being shocked.  Champion plays the mad Doctor fearfully well, wielding a drill and drunk on his experiments in the field of brain surgery, he is absolute in his belief that he is a pioneer, while Martin as his wife elegantly counterbalances his psychotic nature, as a frustrated woman desperate to escape. His operating theatre is an ironic but perfectly appropriate location for the play’s chilling denouement, where reason and rationality explode in a flash of electricity.

The second play of the evening, As Ye Sow by Stewart Pringle is an enjoyably frightening yarn about an old man in a nursing home who is being haunted by the memory of his missing wife. Clifford (Jeffry Mayhew) is visited by his daughter, Susan (Scarlet Sweeney) who is trying to advise him to sell some of his property to free up some money, which he obstinately refuses to do. Yet when she leaves, things take a turn for the worse. In the best tradition of horror, lights flicker off, the radio signal is intercepted and the TV displays images of a highly disturbing quality. Pringle combines humour with terror as poor Old Clifford is totally neglected by his nurse (Victoria Kempton), who leaves him to watch the telly, totally unaware that it is a home movie of a man burying a woman.
Corpse Lights pull out all the stops, with ear splitting shrills from the radio, blackouts and a strange odour which permeates the theatre throughout the entire evening. Mayhew’s Clifford is absorbing as a petrified old man who is visited by paranormal activity. As the picture of his wife falls from the shelf, and the lights go out, the sudden shrieks that stab out of the darkness will chill you to the bone.

Imagine the worst punishment you could inflict upon your cheating boyfriend, then, times it by a hundred and you’ve got Hero by TS Richards. When hung over, university student, Max ( Kes Gill Martin), gets a Skype call from his girlfriend, Emma ( Alicia Bennett) who is teaching in Russia, and  it all seems fairly casual. However, we soon learn of his treachery, when his latest conquest Becky (Kate Quinn), appears from under his bed cover. It all seems fairly innocuous, a traditional tale of the cheating boyfriend, but this is not a melodrama, but a morality play in the most severe sense. For Becky is not interested in just becoming Max’s girlfriend, she’s interested in humiliating him and destroying him in front of his girlfriend. Cue handcuffs, nipple pegs, a Skype call and a strange, young Russian man who makes the unthinkable thinkable.

Richards incorporates the use of a projector ingeniously well, as we watch Bennett’s tortuous reactions when she discovers her love rat boyfriend Max has been cheating on her, tied to his bed, in the squalor of his flat. We feel a mix of sympathy for them both, for the shock and sadness Bennett depicts at being cheated and the impotence of Martin to address the situation. Richard’s use of red herrings is highly skillful. We sit captivated wondering if Kate Quinn’s, unpredictable, Becky will turn into a psychopath as she removes worrying instruments from her bag or if the Russian mob will kick his door down, but nothing prepares us for the horrifying culmination.

The Blind Women by Stewart Pringle is immediately striking. Three blind women with reflective glasses and green scrubs stand facing the audience, working on a factory line in WWII Britain. New girl Ena (Kate Quinn) joins the line, desperate for a job to support her and her baby, but it isn’t long before Greta (Scarlet Sweeney) the cruel woman in charge of the sanding machine voices her jealousies. For these women have been blinded in a horrific accident in a bomb factory which has stained their skin yellow, giving them the nickname the Canary Girls.

Sweeney’s Greta is incredibly intimidating, as she stays silent and still, waiting for her moment to latch onto Ena and interrogate her in an alarmingly chilling manner. Quinn is convincing as Ena, a strong girl who gives as good as she gets, but nothing can prepare her for the torment Greta inflicts upon her.  As the war rages on outside and rations are tight, Greta wages her own personal war on Ena as Mary (Emma-Jane Martin) and Agnes (Victoria Kempton) petrified of the tyrannical Greta, as they nervously file and fix parts. Pringle slowly builds the tension through the hierarchical relationship between the women, all terrified of the tyrannical, Greta and the chilling, unspoken sub text of what happened to the previous woman who worked there. The sound of factory machinery is excellently created by Corpse Lights to stitch together the tension as the buzz of the sander and the chop of the guillotine all take on sinister qualities, till the peal of the air raid siren fills the air with terror. Pringle’s The Blind Women is a highly disturbing play that will make you convulse in shock.

Revenge of the Grand Guignol is a horrifyingly exiting journey into the sordid and depraved, which will frighten and shock anyone with a pulse. Pringle and Richards have collaborated on four highly varied and enjoyably gruesome ventures, exploring the murky underworld of human experimentation, paranormal activity and revenge with a cast of capable actors who excel at doubling up and playing a variety of roles.  Seb Blaber provides excellent lighting, which is integral to evoking the mood of these terrible stories and terrifying the audience. The strange smell that wafts though the air adds another dimension to an already incredibly immersive experience. These plays will scare the bejeesus out of you, at the same time that they also make you laugh. But to be sure, this is laughter in the dark if ever I heard it.  

 
Courtyard Theatre
Bowling Green Walk
40 Pitfield Street
London
N1 6EU
7.30pm (No Monday Performances)
Price: £16 Full £12 Concessions
Box Office: 0844 477 1000
http://www.thecourtyard.org.uk/whatson/184/revenge-of-the-grand-guignol
 
 

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