I have a genuine fear of the dark, and being plunged into it whilst actors taunted the audience with song definitely made me scared: I was on the verge of screaming at the littlest movement and smallest sound. Add to this a thrilling and intimidating puppetry display by Flabbergast, of a giant spider terrorising the audience, and my agoraphobia and nyctophobia are racing. Terror 2012 is a festival of horror theatre in its second year at the Soho Theatre and looking at its strengths this year; I don’t doubt that Terror will return to the venue in 2013.
The theme this year was ‘all in the mind’, and the producers were definitely on to something special with this. There’s Hollywood horror which is all blood, guts and gore, and then there’s fear itself and exploiting the psychology of this in an audience. Linking the four short plays are cabaret sets from Desmond O’Connor and Sarah-Louise Young which take Terror to another level, through a combination of gentle mockery and not so gentle menace. Their wit is sharp and banter infectious – you couldn’t ask for more charming comperes to hold your hand and as they scare you.
The first play is No Place Like by Robert Farquhar where we meet oh so middle class Jenny (Kay Carrington) and Peter (Nigel Carrington), a mid-life crisis on legs. Jenny talks and talks and talks, and opens Terror on a humorous note as she skirts around the fact that Peter has been missing for weeks. When he turns up suddenly, staring voyeuristically at Jenny through the window, we know we are in horror territory and sure enough a ridiculous ending that seems to come out of nowhere is not far off.
In contrast, seasoned comedian Mike McShane has created a brilliant play, poking fun at the vampire genre. Representation is the only one of out the four plays not directed by Matt Peover, but by Hannah Eidinow, and the change in style is significant. Representation makes use of the cabaret venue’s bar as well as the stage, and is one of the most immersive pieces. Victoria Lennox oozes Hollywood vampirism in her husky delivery, playing off Shaun Stone’s contrasting character well. Representation use prosthetics, props and blood to expose everything that’s indulgent but inviting about horror.
Mark Ravenhill’s The Experiment is a last minute replacement in the programme, and a smart decision as Oliver Senton (who alternates with William Donaldson) can read from his notes and remain in character. Senton’s monologue is an account of how a couple have been experimenting on their children to find a cure for the disease one of them suffers from, posing a moral dilemma. The direction of The Experiment is static, but this works as Ravenhill’s meandering monologue combined with Senton’s diluted delivery is compelling.
Alex Jones’ Fifty Shades of Black is a wicked parody of that novel, which follows our cabaret comperes in the characters of Mark and Kate as an anonymous sexual encounter goes wrong. Jones’ is the most daring of the set of plays, and although the gratuitously gory ending doesn’t suspend disbelief, it does communicate the fear of experimenting sexually. This is successfully achieved because the clumsy banter between O’Connor and Young that we’ve become familiar with takes us by surprise as it turns ice cold.
In fact, Terror 2012 feels like it rides upon O’Connor and Young’s personalities, as some of the plays are better than others, and don’t use the downstairs bar space as well as they could. There is a brilliant balance between entertaining and terrifying, but for a festival named Terror I’d like the plays themselves to be a little more daring.
Terror 2012 plays at the Soho Theatre until 3rd November. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.