Horror With The Canberra Theatre

I've been lucky enough to see some pretty amazing theatre productions - like The War of the Worlds, The Phantom of The Opera, and the Dracula, which the latter was extremely groundbreaking with it's utilisation of moving set designs and a leather clad Prince of Darkness.

But I've never seen a horror movie reenacted on stage before.

Playing at the Canberra Theatre last week, Horror is an 80 minute production by acclaimed European theatre-maker Jakop Ahlbom who takes on something not for the faint of heart - creating a fully immersive horror movie-like theatre production with only special effects and two words uttered throughout the play.

And Ahlbom nails it. The story follows a woman who returns to a family home with her boyfriend and friend only to discover the home is haunted by tragedy and mystery when a vengeful spirit makes its presence known. As our characters descend into maddness and horror the only way to survive is to contront the atrocities of the past and the present to soothe the terrified spirit.

Horror plays homage to many classic horror movies that are popular in culture today, everything from the possessed hand that Bruce Campbell made famous in The Evil Dead, to a girl emerging The Ring-like from a discarded television, to the lost bridal couple that clearly align with the characters of Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The homages are fantastic to see, but the real stars of the show is the special effects. Characters regularly appear out of nowhere and disappear again a second later under a spray of flashing strobe lights. A character comes out of a TV and one is sucked into a couch, while one floats out of a cupboard door. Hands animatronically crawl across the floor like Thing in The Addams Family and characters with camera emerge from a seemingly endless bathtub. The special effects are perfect for a horror story, but seeing it actually transpire on stage using illusion and trickery leaves the audience breathless.

The only problem with Horror is the storyline, which is an important feature to miss in any storytelling production no matter the means. Because there is no dialogue at all in the show (which is in itself a great feature for the production) audiences have to follow the hauntings, appearances and costumes of the characters to depict whether the scenes of haunting are ocurring in the present or the past - which makes it a bit difficult when the bride and groom show up. Are they alone in the present? Do they exist at the same time as the woman and her friends, or are they some form of second past haunting that has occured? This part with the bride and groom's interactions are unclear, and make it difficult to see it past the dedicated homage of Brad and Janet.

You can kind of figure it out in the end - the vengeful spirit is looking for her sister - but as my theatre buddy pointed out, you kind of need the storyline to be a little bit more obvious in the way it works. Otherwise you are left with a brilliant production and special effects with nothing more beneath the surface.

So - kind of like a lot of classic cult slasher flicks then?

You leave Horror awed by the design of the set and the production, and the excellent acting work of the characters. But you do leave scratching your head a little. However, the overall sense is that you don't really mind that the ending didn't make sense, because most horror movies don't in the end - especially if you deal with haunting spirits from the past.

I give it three out of five stars!

Pictures from The Canberra Theatre.

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