“When you turn out the lights tonight, be sure to check that corner of your room again… you know the one” warns Reece, one of our hosts for the evening, with a dark smirk. As the audience nervously laugh and shudder my girlfriend whispers “I think you’ve broken my hand.” I relinquish my crushing grip on her fingers and realise that for the last hour I have been on the edge of my seat with wide eyes and a racing pulse.
Last Orders is a horror aficionado’s dream. Equally vaudevillian and spine tingling the show combines story telling, historical account and comedy for a sensational evening of ghost hunting. True believers in the paranormal leave vindicated and chilled. And the sceptics? They may grip the bannisters imperceptibly tighter on their way out, eyes darting a little more trepidatiously, lingering on the impossibly shadowy corners of the Old Red Lion Theatre.
With the slam of a door we are plunged into darkness and the show begins with a Victorian style ghost story recited by candlelight. As Reece paces the length of the stage the shadows contort illuminating the red words haphazardly painted all over the set. The letters are jagged; looking more like a vengeful spirit angrily carved them into the theatre walls. We catch a word here, a date there – our eyes conjuring shapes out of the darkness. Reece has magnetic stage presence. With words alone he agitates the audience into a state of palpable tension and the mood is set for the rest of the show.
Our three hosts Reece Connolly, Christopher Keegan and Caroline Buckley are effortlessly entertaining. They joke, tease and take us along on their fascinating expedition into the unknown from the top floor theatre into the ancient bowels of the building. The jokes beautifully underscore the tension, the facts are direct and interesting and complex picture of this Islington landmark and its colourful history are conjured. From highwaymen downing their last embittered pint, to Vladimir Lenin ducking out of the clutches of the police into the bar, we can easily understand why so many mischievous wandering souls choose these well trodden halls as their resting place.
The real testimonies from current and former staff at the Old Red Lion theatre and pub are chilling. There is an immediacy to the tales and my glance flickers to the door a couple of times. The investigative methods used to communicate with the spirits are educational for novices but still engaging for enthusiasts. There is a genuine ripple of fear as a real Ouija board is brought on stage and people crane to listen to audio collected on a spirit box.
At no point does Last Orders rely on cheap jump scares, loud noises or actors jumping out. This show proves unequivocally that independent theatre does not require a huge budget or an elaborate arsenal of special effects to be outstanding. Masterful storytelling, skilled acting, and excellent pacing are more than enough to create a memorable and creepy experience.
A final noteworthy point is the great respect shown to the ghosts regardless of whether the individual is a believer or not. The ghosts are addressed directly during the show, asked to only come with good intentions and thanked afterwards. Where other television shows attempt to goad or torment, it was lovely to see the subject being handled with consideration and care. Last Orders is a tantalising triumph from The Knock Knock Club that leaves us grappling with questions of a great beyond and poring over the evidence they present – I wholeheartedly recommend grabbing a ticket this spooky season!
Last Orders is playing the Old Red Lion Theatre until 26 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website.