The latest attempt to scare London theatregoers out of their seats is Afraid of the Dark, which opened last night at the Charing Cross Theatre. I chickened out of Ghost Stories but always recommend The Woman in Black, so consider myself open-minded about scary shows. Afraid of the Dark didn’t make me jump much – you wouldn’t bother daring someone to see it – but it’s perfectly diverting.
Intriguingly penned by Anonymous, the play’s various scenes of suspense circle around an old Vaudevillian magician who delights in scaring the wits out of a B-movie producer and his minions. Julian Forsyth takes on the role of ‘Master of Terror’, Dr Henry Charlier, with nice prestidigitation. And those he terrorises at the film studios (by giving them an envelope predicting their darkest fears) ham it up in appropriate fashion. Rebecca Blackstone’s screams are great and Mark Rice-Oxley tries hard to shed some light on his character’s motivation. None of the actors has that much to work with – characterisation isn’t the point after all – and nor is the plot trying to thread them together up to much. But there’s a good sense of humour here and some neat touches.
What impresses is the show’s production team. Effective light and sound, along with illusions from Darren Lang, reveal this to be a magic show that is entertaining rather than eerie. The stories are made the most of with technical expertise as well as some lo-fi touches that receive eager applause. Just like the movie producer looking for the next gimmick, Afraid of the Dark shows that cheap touches can work well. The real thrill comes from experienced director Ian Talbot who has more than earned his fee here. Consistently tense and swiftly paced, this play is more fun-filled than fear inducing.
Until 26 October 2013
Photo by Eric Richmond
Written 12 September 2013 for The London Magazine
The prestigious Southwark Playhouse has relocated from the arches under London Bridge to a new venue in Elephant and Castle. It opens with the unashamedly populist Tanzi Libre, a show that should make it welcome among its new neighbours. Of all the performances reviewed for The London Magazine, this tale of a young girl’s struggle through life – as a Mexican wrestler – must be one of the oddest, but because of its originality, also one of the most fun.
Writer Claire Luckham’s story started out in Manchester but, in this incarnation, the action is moved to South London. From a baby wrestling with her mother, through school and courtship, Tanzi’s tale puts a heavy weight on audience participation. A sign at the entrance requests our boos, hisses and heckles. It’s an essential part of the night and if it’s your kind of thing you’ll love it.
The staging, set entirely in the ring, really enforces wrestling’s theatricality. Martin Thomas’ superb designs and costumes fit the brash writing and songs with a suitable tongue-in-cheek feel. Deliberately, the only thing about the show that’s polished is the wrestling itself – it would have to be to avoid serious injury, and both the cast’s and director Ellie Jones’ bravery here is quite astounding to this timid spectator.
Throwing one another around, pretty much constantly, impresses, especially when it comes to the finale where Tanzi (Olivia Onyehara) wrestles her husband Dean Rebel (Kazeem Tosin Amore) in order to decide who stays at home with their child and who gets to pursue a professional career in ring. All the stomping and shouting inevitably gets in the way of comprehension, and the singing certainly isn’t a priority but with Mark Rice-Oxley’s rousing performance as the compere there’s little time to question the show’s politics or problems. You should be too busy yelling along.
Until 22 June 2013
Written 22 May 2013 for The London Magazine