Feature: Stage Frights – The London Horror Festival Celebrates its Fifth Year

The Camden-based celebration of horror in the arts has a fantastic line up of horror-themed theatre, cabaret, screenings and events planned for the run up to Halloween. We talk to festival organisers Claire Soares, Katy Danbury and Phil North about what’s in store for fans of horror on stage.

Stroll along Camden High Street and, alongside the racks of alternative clothing and band t-shirts, you’ll find the Etcetera Theatre, sitting atop the Oxford Arms. The theatre has been around since 1986, and is currently host to the London Horror Festival – the UK’s first independent festival dedicated to the genre in the arts.

For five years now the festival has been opening horror up to the talents of fringe theatre, embracing many imaginative, weird and wonderful ways of staging the genre. Audiences can expect to scream, feel sick, laugh, cry, sing (really), and to be challenged and entertained. All in time for Halloween. Claire Soares explains:

“We want to encourage creatives and audiences alike to open their minds to what ‘horror’ is and the different ways this can be brought to the stage. Our programme is always so wonderfully varied with psychological dramas, horror comedies, thrillers, classic ghost stories, twisted cabaret, physical theatre… It’s wonderful to see how different people interpret horror and what scares and excites different folks. We want to promote and encourage more of this!”

For three weeks up to 30 October some eleven horror festival productions will run, ending in time for Halloween, in “a terrifyingly eclectic mix of horror comedy, devil possession, psychological drama, mind reading and even a Zombie musical” according to their website. This year’s plays include both new writing and productions that have made their way from the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes.

While horror may be seen as a niche genre, the festival is all about promoting as many different styles and ways of staging horror as possible. Gore on stage can be so realistic and visceral that it’s been known to get the better of some audience members, but naturalistic horror and adrenaline-raising scares can stand alongside more thoughtful and unsettling theatre – where the concepts evoke a slow realization of dread.

The festival champions new talent and presents a great opportunity for young production companies and new writers. This year and previous years have seen various writing competitions that have helped aspiring playwrights put their work in front of audiences. Katy Danbury notes:

“There are many talented writers out there who do not necessarily have the means to get a company together and produce their work – that’s why this competition was so important. We received over 200 scripts from across the world and we are so excited to present our three finalists, each brilliant in their own unique way, at this year’s festival”.

It’s all about getting horror back to its rightful place on stage. Horror in theatre is often seen as a no go area – films and novels have apparently got it covered. But with horror theatre taking a back seat the festival producers felt something was missing. In the cinema or on TV everything’s behind a screen. With a book it’s on a page. In the theatre you are trapped in there with it, and that’s electric.

“The key thing is that the festival attracts people who might not go to see a play, because horror is predominantly connected with films and books.” Phil North says, “We want to use the genre to get people in the theatre and we certainly do see that this is happening”.

Hidden Basement Productions took over the running of the London Horror Festival last year, having already put on three shows for it. For 2015 they are working with the Etcetera Theatre’s Maud Madlyn and Pierre Fargetton to create “the most exciting festival yet!”

Soares describes the festival’s ongoing mission: “As for the future – who knows?! We really just want to keep providing a space for artists to continue to bring their weird and wonderful work to the stage and for London audiences to come and experience something a little bit different every October”.

The London Horror Festival runs from 11 – 30 October 2015

Adam Ryan

Adam Ryan

After studying history and literature at university I couldn’t lose the writing bug. I am now a blogger and freelance journalist with an interest in music and culture. I also help out with marketing for a Brighton theatre production company.