Friday, October 29, 2010

Misapprehension under the Arches

Terror 2010 – Death and Resurrection is in the last few days of its run at the Southwark Playhouse. It’s a diverse bill of short bouts of darkness by Mark Ravenhill, Neil LaBute, April De Angelis and William Ewart’s adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s infamous Reanimator.

As one gay guy gets caught up in another’s twisted plans once they meet in the countryside, Ravenhill’s Exclusion Zone initially runs on implication – what’s lurking in the darkness and what horrific thing is going to happen to the innocent guy? There are points being made here about the dangers of gay subcultures, solipsistic (computer-based) habits and imagination being overfed by the horror genre (and weed), but they’re not explicit enough and are then soon lost as the things in the dark emerge to become zombie mutants from a nearby hospital, or is it Chernobyl? The protagonist mentioned a former Ukrainian boyfriend, and that seemed to kickstart the twist into a eastern European living hell, but the metamorphosis seemed clumsy and deliberately so, as on comes a gaudy singer to ham it up, throw in a bit of farce and kill the wonder. With a Nightingaleesque nurse-cum-MC presiding over the ‘morgue’ (incorporating the mutants in one of her skits) and then a zombie belly dancer getting off the nurse’s bed to do her thing, this mutant musical was just one entertaining diversion from the plays.

LaBute’s Unimaginable, just one pedo-abductor in virtual darkness with a suitcase full of skulls, is good because of its relentless exploitation of parental fears about losing their loved ones. Hijacking the anxious phrasing of the parent as much as it does the twisted justification of the kidnapper is its strength. It doesn’t let up or change tone until the slam-close of their suitcase signals the end.

After the break, De Angelis’ Country has two women in a widow’s garden, the other a psychiatrist down from London to help the grieving process. It becomes clear as the widow morphs into her dead husband in garb and attitude, intent on somehow honouring his legacy of health sector liberalisation which her friend opposed, that comforting will not be required from the psychiatrist so much as self-preservation. The occasional shriek from a bird did mean something, then the weapon comes up and, gasp, another life is senselessly lost.

The ‘nameless horrors’ of Herbert West’s quest were difficult to visualise in such a stripped down set but the Reanimator was probably the most successful and well developed of the quartet. Ewart’s script seems to twist things slightly, failing to realise the full and final horror of the ‘tomb legions’ (where West is consumed by the dead from the nearby cemetery – or not) to make a vague point about a rather more grounded terror; that while West is intent on killing in the name of researching revivification all around him in Flanders are losing their life in the most pointless and fundamentally wrong way – fighting a war for politicians. As the Londonist said, the triumph here was in the interplay between the five actors, changing role as fluently as they changed scene, and they brought real drama as the scenes moved from Miskatonic University.

Problem is when you’re branding this stuff as ‘terror’ that’s what punters expect to get, priming themselves for a fright night. I’m a wuss with this stuff but never had to cow behind my partner. But then the Playhouse also said there was elements of Grand Guignol and cabaret and they did better on those scores. Still felt like a missed opportunity then to offer some grindingly dark fayre, and my summary pretty much agrees with this guy – good performances let down by underdeveloped scripts. Worth a look but true Halloween aficionados will be after something with a bit more raw meat to get their teeth into.
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