What does one take to the theatre? Maybe a pair of glasses, possibly some change for interval ice cream. But for Slung Low’s latest venture, They Only Come at Night: Visions, this list needs expanding: sensible shoes, an extra pair of tights, and a large pinch of salt. Deceptively starting in the foyer of the theatre, the audience are quickly drawn outside to begin a fantasy mission for survival on the darkened streets of Huddersfield.
The premise is not made entirely clear: all we are told is that there is something dangerous out there, and that as long as we get to Quinn (whoever he might be), we’ll survive the night – hopefully. It’s all very ‘28 Days Later’, but the girl who tells us all this, chirpy and nicely turned out in fashionable shiny leggings and perfectly applied eyeliner, is hopelessly at odds with the idea of asylum from the terrifying creatures of the night. Throughout, the intended atmosphere is confused, as we are led past banners declaring that we are “in the place where the dogs lick the blood” by similarly glib characters, who blithely keep up a stream of chit chat in between dire warnings to trust “only those who glow”. What could be a thrilling, apocalyptic game of hide and seek sadly descends into pantomime. By making the audience’s journey the performance itself, we are required to whole-heartedly enter into the belief that we are fleeing from vampires (our apparent assassins, as it is later revealed), but the inherent silliness of the whole thing means that it comes across as part video game, part child’s play.
The action ends up in a warehouse, in which we are given headphones, which relay an obscure monologue that jumps erratically from Bible references to football commentary. The space is impressive; coils of lighting on the floor and mystic salt circles add to the unsettling experience of being led through the installed maze, flanked by ripped white plastic walls that evoke hospitals and abandoned building sites. Sadly, it is hard to pay attention to the ramblings of the headphones and absorb one’s surroundings simultaneously. I encounter an anxious young man desperate to know if I’m ‘Gatekeeper 66’. Muttering about how he is the Robin to Quinn’s Batman, he clutches a cricket bat in a borrowed reference from ‘Shaun of the Dead’ that completes the nagging sense of parody.
Afterwards, there is a great pleasure to be had in finding out the other strands of the story as experienced by other audience members, and it is this multi-faceted element of site-specific theatre that makes it so dynamic and enjoyable. Clutching our souvenirs - a packet of crisps forced on to me, a business card with ‘vampire hunter’ in red ink – one has to conclude that it was certainly an hour of plain good fun, albeit one lacking theatrical sophistication that failed to rise above the tongue-in-cheek.