The idea: put out an open call for new short horror stories, and pick six to present in one evening, with the audience voting on the best. That was the plan devised between Harpy Productions and Danse Macabre, two companies who, whilst still young, already have some pedigree when it comes to chilling theatre. And what was obvious come the end of the evening is that there are plenty of young writers, directors, and actors out there to take us confidently into 2022, as well as an abundance of wonderful ideas for the criminally underrepresented horror genre on stage.
Glamorous compere Lady Aria Grey (Callum Tilbury) kept the evening moving along and helped bring out thoughts from three expert horror judges, although come the end, I assume their votes only counted the same as everyone else’s!
Introductions over, the evening got off to a slightly unsteady start with All I Want for Christmas…Is You by Sarah Hamilton. It was enjoyable, with a classic horror set up; young girl alone in a house at Christmas, the departing words of the man who has shown her there being ‘don’t open the door to anybody’. You already know she will and it won’t end well. The main problem was the lack of projection from the performers: barely audible at times, making it difficult to follow. Perhaps this was why I felt unsure about the ending, which lacked any real finesse, with twist upon twist upon twist that didn’t quite hit home. But clearly others enjoyed it more, as it found itself in third place at the end of the night.
Eight Legs. Eight Arms by Jane Morris took us off in a very different direction. Talk of octopi, spiders and walking home late at night in the dark created a landscape for thoughts on violence against woman. All very abstract but certainly worthy of inclusion. In just ten minutes it demonstrated some lovely writing that felt more of an introduction than a full play. This one could certainly see life elsewhere.
They Comes from Rachel O’Neill returned us to more traditional horror; a couple preparing for bed on Christmas Eve, arguing over the impending arrival of gran for dinner, and how she always drops hints about them not yet having any children. Well written and performed, it had some lovely subtlety about it, plus an ending that was utterly unexpected.
Ben Whitehead’s The Sister Inside transported us into Victorian storytelling. Appearing in his white sheet Whitehead looked like a classic Scooby Doo villain, much to the audience’s amusement. It proved to be a superbly spun yarn in rhyming couplets. Certainly, he got the most laughs of the evening with his performance, but as the tale reached its grisly conclusion we were all gripped. A worthy second place was forthcoming.
It was the final two pieces of the evening that felt like the real horror highlights. Tooting Bed Asylum by Rachel Bellman also followed a traditional horror story route; a woman moves into a flat that is built on the site of the old hospital, and soon she is seeing ghostly apparitions. The sceptical boyfriend adds to the tension, especially when he begins to see them too. It’s a lovely play on the classic ghost story, ending with a wonderful payoff.
But it’s Freddie Valdosta’s Flip the Switch that proved to be not just my highlight, but apparently that of many others, as it was voted the best of the night. It is a play full of tension as we witness John, all alone with what seems his inner voice commanding him to do things. At first, it’s a rather simple order to switch the lamp off and on, but before too long things get way more sinister. Wonderfully performed by Freddie Gilbraith and Oscar Koronka (although one is simply a voice) it delivers an absolute gut punch come the end, playing on ideas of OCD and anxieties.
It all proves to be a wonderful night to check out some great new talent. It’s also good to see horror given an outing outside of Halloween. There is no reason to think many of these shows couldn’t go on to command their own slots in 2022’s schedules. For now, I’m still hearing that voice commanding I switch my lamp on and off seven times and let me tell you, it is freaking me out!
Shows written by: Sarah Hamilton, Jane Morris, Rachel O’Neill, Ben Whitehead, Freddie Valdosta, Rachel Bellman
Evening produced by: Harpy Productions and Danse Macabre Productions
The Fright Before Christmas was on for one night only at The Space.