The team behind 2012′s The Horror! The Horror! return with an appendage – and the final curtain of its title hangs like a guillotine over Alfred Brownlow’s variety troupe. Audience numbers are down, the critics are sharpening their knives and the wolves are at the door. But Alfred does his best to keep spirits high by rallying his company of faded, haunted and haunting ‘artistes’ through their last, fateful show.
Like its ghoulish predecessor, The Horror! The Horror! – The Final Curtain combines Victorian variety theatre with an underlying presence of the supernatural. We are treated to all manner of entertainment: a ditty from Somerset girls Nancy and Sally, a trick or two from a mysterious musician and an insight into ancient Egypt from archaeologist Mr Close.
While that’s all well and good, it’s the marvellously melodious music that make this unique show what it is. After all, what’s a music hall without music? Jeffrey Mayhew’s full score of music-hall numbers is toe-tappingly catchy, capturing a cascade of gems for the golden age and evoking a glorious throwback to simpler times.
In between musical numbers and puppet shows, the moth-eaten curtains provide a fitting backdrop for Brownlow and his sidekick, Archie, as they bemoan the dwindling audience and tell a series of increasingly terrible jokes. They make an unlikely double act, but Tom Richards and James Utechin excel in a strong company of capable performers.
The psychic scene is overlong; it disrupts the pacing of the piece as it moves from variety show to psychological drama. Like any variety show, it relies on a willing audience and the issue of pacing might well fall away once they have the energy of a fuller audience to riff off.
Theatre of the Damned has been known to perform its unique work in surviving music halls and the crumbling design comes across a bit naff without more appropriate surroundings. Nevertheless, The Horror! The Horror! – The Final Curtain is a music-hall marvel unlike anything you’re likely to see on the Fringe.
The Horror! The Horror! The Final Curtain is at the Bedlam Theatre until 24 August. For more information and tickets go to: www.tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/horror-the-horror-the-final-curtain