Can our theatre chill and thrill like the Victorian melodrama? Can we update those sensations beyond the horror movie and the post-censorship stage? Can we re-imagine how a theatre of blood was meat and drink to the Greeks and the Jacobeans?
These and other interesting questions are posed by the annual “Terror” seasons curated by Adam Meggido’s Sticking Place company, this year moving from the Southwark Playhouse to the new downstairs cabaret space at the Soho Theatre.
The venue’s great, but Terror:2011 itself a bit of an 80-minute let-down, despite two vivid, extremely well-delivered monologues and some agreeably off-colour cabaret song interludes - including a ballad of Fred West delivered in Val Doonican’s best rocking chair style - by Desmond O'Connor and Sarah-Louise Young, the former performing them with Merrill Grant.
The programme’s two short plays are niftily directed by Hannah Eidinow, but she has trouble making Dave Florez’s The Waiting Mortuary - in which two pseudo-medics mug for England over a corpse that may not be dead - remotely scary.
And the other playlet, Mad About the Boy, devised by Lucy Kirkwood and Eleanor Buchan, in which Buchan’s striptease is goosed by her own self-destructive vampirism, while grim and gruesome, is not really funny; except that, for some reason, a portrait of Ian McKellen as Gandalf is implicated in the semi-obscene ritual.
Matt Peover supervises the monologues, which have the best writing: Carl Grose’s Wormy Close is an everyday country tale of mutant vegetables and zombie scarecrows, rivetingly delivered by Amanda Lawrence; and Ciaran Kellgren roams the room charismatically as a working-class Cambridge student caught up in an extreme hunting exercise that shades from the Bullingdon Club into child murder in Jack Thorne’s The Gong.
Even with seeping bandages, sadistic divas and poisoned lullabies, the overall tone wobbles a bit too precariously between blood lust and abusively warped behaviour; the spirit of M R James and Edgar Allan Poe vies with the modern theatre of cheap and nasty thrills, and it becomes increasingly hard to join in the guffaws.