In 2001 then-drama graduates Lucy Enskal and Daniel Gilmore with Thomas Dunn originally conceived Nightmare Café. This may be why the show has the feel of a student revue rather than a fully realised production. There is a slightly amateurish approach as if scenes have been included not to advance the plot or develop character but because the cast fancied trying a certain style.
This approach is clear even before the show begins. On entering the theatre the audience is greeted by gravel-voiced Bearded Beatrice (Zoe Saber) a grotesque comic figure in a bloodstained apron and a full beard. Meanwhile, onstage Gemma Khawaja is performing a fairly decent set of folk-blues songs. This conflict of styles fails to establish an atmosphere and sets us up for a show that never settles to a consistent approach and, as a result, leaves the audience a bit uncertain of how to react.
The use of an omniscient narrator to link a series of stories is a common device in horror anthologies. This is the approach taken in Nightmare Café. Gilmore plays Augustus, a sinister waiter at the café, who along with his assistant/ lover Christina (Enskat) tells of the fates that befell past patrons of the establishment .The main tale is that of Algernon who buys a baby at the café. Warped by her father’s inability to love the child takes revenge when grown to adulthood only to fall prey to a twist in the tale.
A range of techniques is used to tell the tales including magic tricks and dance routines by Hannah Ashmore. The multi- media techniques work very well and add imagination to the evening particularly when Ashmore appears in a film as an inserted image representing a Chef’s idealised lover. The acting is, however, of variable quality. Gilmore aims for, but does not always achieve, a sinister intensity whilst Enskat goes for a more manic approach which, along with her white face make-up, bring to mind Punch and Judy.
Nightmare Café is too self-indulgent to be entirely satisfying and at times makes you think that the cast are more interested in entertaining themselves as opposed to their audience.
- Dave Cunningham