Real Horror Show[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)

Colin Hoult’s solo sketch comedy shows have garnered him a loyal following at the Edinburgh Fringe over the past few years, and rightly so – Hoult is an engaging performer, likeable and very funny. Real Horror Show sees him branching out from comedy into a brand of horror theatre that is still riddled with idiosyncratic humour and feels very much his own.

Hoult has a distinctive voice. His comedy shows have often concerned themselves with loners, freaks and outcasts, and he seems intrigued by the entire concept of society – how it functions, how one exists outside it. In Real Horror Show, this translates into a fascination with the concept of dislike, mistrust or even fear of those around us, in the form of short stand-alone horror pieces, performed by a cast of six.

Each one shows a group of people in different situations who are terrified of the Other – nervous of the people around them, at least one person in every piece mentions what “Uncle Ron says in the papers”. Hoult slowly paints a picture of a frightened society, feeding on the hatred of the tabloid newspapers which have given them a common enemy; people are cautious, loathing of those around them, even themselves, simply because they have been told to feel this way.

Some of the stories work better than others, but Hoult is a writer/performer whose work feels genuinely exciting and experimental, so parts of it are bound to fall a little flat – and there’s still plenty to like here. One sequence, in which a group of benefits recipients wait to be seen in a darkened office, slowly being picked off one-by-one by the thing that lurks in the darkness, is genuinely chilling. The small cast tackle the stories nicely, with John Kearns particularly well-pitched as a lonely and withdrawn comics obsessive.

The first halves of many of these scenes would not feel out of place in Hoult’s comedy shows – but they get darker and steadily darker as they go on, and there is a core of deeply held beliefs at the heart of this show. In his attempt to progress to straight theatre, the writing can be a little heavy-handed at times and Hoult needs to have more faith in his own ability to convey the subtleties, which he does well – there’s no need to drive a point home in the way he sometimes does here. But these are natural teething problems in a change of medium.

Ultimately, Real Horror Show is an experiment that’s far from perfect, but it is fun and interesting, and Hoult is a talented writer-performer who demands to be taken seriously.

Real Horror Show can be seen at the Assembly Roxy, every day until 26 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.