Horror theatre, and horror comedies in particular, often leave you feeling grimy. FacePlant Theatre’s The Service, now in a revamped form at the King’s Head Theatre, has the advantage of ensuring that feeling of grime from the outset with its premise of a religious cult guiding the audience through a service, a great concept. There’s no surprise that various fluids are expelled along the way.
There are few surprises here at all, actually: The Service is not really a satire of religion in the vein of Moral Orel of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as it isn’t that sharp and doesn’t have a sustained target. It’s farcical above all else. The characters are hulking, monobrowed and screaming: there’s jokes about the incest perpetuated by the cult leader, Ray of Light, and, more disturbingly, jokes about rape (“bequeathing” seed on an unwilling abductee). There’s a gospel centred around a cabbage, exhortations to mass suicide, and references to brainwashing.
The audience has a lot of fun joining in the hymn and prayer, audibly gasping at what’s before them. The small cast of Alice Bounce, Oliver Britten, Owen Jenkins and Lydia Hourihan keep the energy up throughout and despite slowness on a few cues show they’re game for pretty much anything. Hourihan has the more impressive role, and with a physicality straight out of the early horror films and her relative quiet, she yields a lot of the laughs.
The idea of joining these characters, who failed to drink the Kool-Aid and achieve a cabbage-filled afterlife with their father-lover, on the very night they are preparing to welcome a new messiah is a great one, but The Service is marked by some very middle-of-the-road, ‘panto’ humour (“I hope all those episodes of Call the Midwife pay off!”) – it’s at its best when darker, grosser, and weirder.
The highlight for me was the enactment of the cult’s origins in a ‘show’, a horrible nativity, put on by the characters, which has the kind of overflowing enthusiasm of children improvising at play. Their demonstration of Ray’s “ordinary” life before founding his church is witty and imaginative and sets off the twisted history of this fictional cult. While FacePlant might want to watch out for the gendering of their audience when encouraging confessions (I was ready to be addressed as “ma’am” and have to confess the sin of not being one), this production will be enjoyed by many as a slightly alternative trip to the theatre, and I’ll remember it as a piece abundant in potential.
The Service played at the King’s Head Theatre until 8 April
Photo: FacePlant Theatre