Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 10th October 2019
“Believer or not, this was thoroughly anxiety-inducing”
Since 1415, the Old Red Lion pub has been a notorious hangout for highwaymen, a popular billiards venue and, as of 1979, also a small studio theatre. The walls of the Old Red Lion have seen many things and Last Orders by The Knock Knock Club explores the pub’s exciting and chequered past with the hope of communicating with some of the pub’s supernatural inhabitants along the way.
In July 2019, Reece Connolly, Christopher Keegan and Caroline Buckley – a believer, sceptic and agnostic respectively – spent a night in the Old Red Lion with Twilight Ghost Hunts and its founder Laura Goff. From midnight to 6am, the team explored the three floors of the pub theatre, using both old – a planchette to facilitate automatic writing and a ouija board – and new – EMF meters, audio recordings and infrasound monitoring – methods to communicate with any paranormal residents. In Last Orders, the trio present their findings from this night to try and answer the ultimate question: are ghosts real?
Connolly is the star of the show. He is engaging, funny and keeps the play moving forward. Keegan and Buckley do at times fade into the background, especially the latter who due to being ‘on the fence’ about the supernatural often does not have much to contribute to the debate. Regardless, the chemistry between the group is strong and they are all confident in their deliveries.
The play begins with Connolly telling a ghost story with a candle illuminating his face. This happens two more times throughout the play with Buckley and Keegan taking the lead instead. These scenes unfortunately come across as weak filler to bulk out a lack of actual findings from the real-life ghost hunt. Interviews with staff past and present (including the pub dog Rolo) shed some light on the pub’s mysterious goings-on but apart from some anecdotes about sockets being unplugged in a locked room there is little concrete evidence for a haunting.
The performance’s best (and most frightening) scene is when the team re-enact their exploration of the building’s cellar which used to be a morgue. The stage is plunged into complete darkness and the trio flash torches randomly to prevent the audience’s eyes from adjusting. This also builds a great sense of dread. Down in the cellar, Connolly and Buckley claim that they saw a full-bodied apparition which Goff encouraged to come towards them, and the audio of this moment is played as the audience sit in darkness. Believer or not, this was thoroughly anxiety-inducing.
The staging is simple but, in most instances, effective. Malicious words such as ‘HANG HIM’ are scrawled in red across the theatre walls and a battered sign for the Old Red Lion hangs in the centre of the stage. For most of the play, a white sheet is hung from the sign to be used as a backdrop for a projector which displays images and videos relating to the ghost hunt. This use of multi-media was a nice idea but with the lights still on it was often hard to see the apparitions that apparently lurked in the displayed photo. This however did give Connolly an opportunity to show his passion for the paranormal as he offered to show audience members any photos or videos in the pub after the performance.
Last Order’s greatest merit is sparking the audience’s interest in the extraordinary history of the buildings around us but actual ghost hunting will have to be left to the professionals.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Old Red Lion Theatre until 26th October as part of London Horror Festival
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: