Review: Unburied, Waterloo East Theatre

I’m not a huge fan of horror theatre – I point-blank refused to see ‘The Woman in Black’ in the theatre, and could only watch the film version behind the comfort of a cushion. Even a student production of ‘Frankenstein’, boasting a decidedly diminutive and softly-spoken monster battling some ropey special effects, had me quaking, just a little, in my size 8s.

I consequently approached Hermetic Arts production of ‘Unburied’ with some trepidation. The show’s synopsis was intriguing, promising to tell the disquieting tale of a ‘missing’ 1978 children’s TV series, ‘Unburied’. Although six episodes were filmed, the series was never broadcast, and none of the recordings have ever been discovered.

From this enticing premise, Hermetic Arts have created a show that probes beyond the topsoil of a 1970s TV puzzle, creating a disturbing mystery story that trespasses into the darker places of the human psyche. Carrie Marx is compelling as a 1970s TV fanatic turned detective, unfolding the story of how she came to be interested in the missing ‘Unburied’ tapes, and how that interest led to an obsessive search for the truth; a full understanding what had happened to ‘Unburied’, and why. As Carrie says, in an age where information can be summoned at the swipe of a screen, we react almost indignantly to anything that is obscure, obtuse, buried. Carrie is consequently determined to follow her ‘breadcrumb trail’ of clues – a metaphor that recurs effectively, one of the lovelier images in a show whose writing is sharp, lucid and often lyrical – to their quite possibly disturbing end.   

The show uses a Powerpoint-style presentation to prevent Carrie’s findings and carry the audience with her on her bizarre and sinister journey, with plenty of nostalgia-ridden images of 1970s TV stills (including lots of Doctor Who, obviously). As the research story continued, and Carrie leads us backwards from a 1970s production set to a past scattered with more ‘breadcrumb’ clues, we delve into Victorian penny dreadfuls and the phenomenon of Victorian psychic obsession, including a truly disquieting recording of a supposed Victorian séance.

The story definitely requires some imaginative leaps from the audience – the occult figure of the ‘Sick Man’ is meant to be the common factor in ‘Unburied’ mystery trail, recurring in various ways that somehow (if we don’t probe too deeply…) allow a line to be drawn through a number of mysterious, macabre happenings at 40 year intervals between 1858 and 1978, when the ‘Unburied’ tapes were lost. If the story overreaches itself slightly at points, it is a least a pretty thrilling one, full of narrative tension, and Carrie herself is brilliantly engaging, communicating both her passion for getting to the bottom of the mystery, and her growing sense of unease that her quest for the truth may have some darker consequences.  The periodic rattling of trains overhead add to the eerie atmosphere, and the final few twists in the tale, although a little melodramatic, still make for a pleasantly ghoulish finale.

Intriguingly plotted, intelligently written and compellingly told, ‘Unburied’ definitely repays its excavation.  

Unburied played Waterloo East Theatre until 11 March 2018. For more information and tickets, see waterlooeast.ticketsolve.com/shows/873582714

Phoebe Walker

Phoebe Walker

Originally from Northumberland, Phoebe currently lives in London and works as a development manager for a social justice charity. In her spare time, she writes, edits and reviews poetry, and is a current member of the TOAST poetry collective.