I see dead people. This time in the flesh, live on stage.
The real trick of Horror, a theatrical homage to silver screen scares, is that there aren’t really any tricks at all. At least of the Hollywood kind. Everything you see is real, thanks to some elastic humans and eye-popping stagecraft.
It comes from the mind of Jakop Ahlbom, a Swedish theatre director with a deep love of horror films. He created Horror, which has been touring the world for a few years now before landing at the Sydney Opera House this week, to bring the magic of scary movies to the multi-dimensional theatre space.
What he’s created, then, is something like a cross between an elaborate (if stationary) theme park experience and a physical theatre performance. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The curtain opens on a haunted house of every horror film you’ve seen, with faded wallpaper, dusty furniture and far too many entrances for anyone to ever feel safe. A trio of mischievous young adults enter to explore, suitably clueless as to the obvious traps of haunted houses. The ghosts of a gothic family haunt close by, hungry for redemption or salvation or whatever it is ghosts want. And let’s just leave it at that, as a pact not to spoil for future audiences.
Eight actors play a variety of roles, uncredited as far as I’ve internet-browsed. They’re an athletically well-drilled unit, hitting every mark and ducking every punch (or axe swing). There’s an impressive physicality on display, particularly in the final scenes of Tarantino-esque stylised violence represented through a complex choreography of dance.
They’re all upstaged by the house, naturally, with its trap doors, transparent walls, transmogrifying devices, motorised furniture, sentient props and other how’d-they-do-that trickery. Plus plenty of fake blood, of course. The sheer inventiveness shows Ahlbom as a master theatremaker at play.
Horror fans will be tickled by the references, borrowing tales and tricks from The Exorcist, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and others with a wink and a wry smile. But anyone will be impressed by the stage magic, with spells even seasoned theatre-goers won’t have seen before.
The 80-minute act is almost entirely wordless, which creates an even creepier atmosphere and lets the terrifically pulsating sound design shine. It also means, of course, you don’t feel anything for anyone on stage, aside from flinching at the gore. They’re mere cannon fodder, tortured for our pleasure.
Is it scary? Not really. Is it gruesome? A little. Is it a hell of a lot of fun? Sure, you bet.
If you’re into that sort of thing.
Horror plays the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until September 2 and the Arts Centre Melbourne September 18-22