There’s a lot to be said for trying to reinvent horror and grand guignol in the theatre. Why should shocks and scares be a thing of the dusty theatrical past when we still crave horror in film and fiction?
The Jacobeans loved to be frightened witless and splashed with buckets of blood. It’s that raw, visceral function of theatricality that Adam Meggido and Jason Lawson of The Sticking Place seek to recreate in Terror, their fifth annual season of grand guignol.
Here’s a mouth-watering bill of four short plays by Lucy Kirkwood, Mark Ravenhill, Anthony Neilson and Neil LaBute, punctuated with mournful, sado-masochistic cabaret songs by Sarah-Louise Young and prefaced with the brutal exclusion of a mobile phone offender who I hope was a plant.
All the plays are edgy and interesting, but LaBute’s Some White Chick is deeply unsettling and uncharacteristically amoral in its portrait of two porn internet providers (Michael Cox and Matthew Stathers) killing, raping and filming their latest kidnap victim (Lucy Caplin).
This is shocking bad horror. Shocking good horror comes with Kirkwood’s Psychogeography as a home-hunting couple (Zoie Kennedy and Matthew Wilson) look over a dimly lit house haunted by rape and murder victims.
Even better is Hannah Eidinow’s production of Neilson’s Twisted, a radio play about a prison doctor offering a killer instant release if he rubs out her own husband’s lover. Like a potted variation on Measure for Measure, it’s warped, creepy and morally ambiguous, and it’s played with superb and sexy slyness by Trudi Jackson as the doctor and Adrian Schiller as the con.
Mark Ravenhill is a practised exponent of his own material, but I had no idea he’d become as cool and polished as he is in The Experiment. He’s a far more natural performer than, say, David Hare or Arnold Wesker. He addresses us quietly and insidiously, dressed in a beautifully cut pin-striped suit, on the subject of tests on children to find cures for adults.
It’s the crevices in morality and blame that Ravenhill is picking away at, and the writing has a strong metaphorical application: is the beneficiary of injecting children with cancer cells the performer’s partner, his neighbour, or the customer he recognises warmly in the front row? What particular price for the general health service? Who is not saved, who is not guilty?
Terror is at London's Southwark Playhouse, where its season runs from 7 to 24 October 2009.