“Lights Out is thrillingly unconventional, sits in a sweet spot of tension and comedy”
It’s that time of the year again: London Horror Festival is in full swing, providing all manner of uneasiness to get you feeling spooky for Halloween. The festival often does a great job of making space for quirkier, off-beat shows, and Lights Out proves that this year is no different, with this fantastic role-playing stage seance from Merely Roleplayers and Blackshaw Theatre Company.
Moving from their regular podcast format to the Pleasance Theatre, the Merely Roleplayers ensemble (consisting of Natalie Winter, Alexander Pankhurst, Helen Stratton, and Richard Stratton, with Matt Boothman hosting) take on the characters of the Blackout Four – a group of Londoners who (apparently) went mysteriously missing on the Northern Line in 2017. Under eerie candlelight, they try to recreate the events of that night to discern what happened, improvising their way through a story whose outcomes are dictated by tarot cards.
If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or any similar sort of role-playing game, the rules will feel familiar. The actors describe what their characters do and perform any dialogue they might have, while the host keeps things running smoothly and dictates what’s happening in the world. When an actor chooses to do something that will irrevocably affect the story, the suit of the tarot card they draw decides whether the outcome will be hopeful or sinister. There’s a bit more nuance to it than that, but the rules are easy to follow during the show. It’s a great device for keeping the proceedings spontaneous and engaging, with the actors having to make some very difficult spur-of-the-moment decisions.
Thankfully, the cast are all very much up to the task – Winters in particular does an excellent job as the emotional core of the group, encouraging characters who start off very comedic, such as Richard Stratton’s narcissistic journalist, to open up and reveal more complex shades of their personality. Boothman is also stellar as the host, ensuring the pace of the story never drops, and painting some striking images with his narration.
Considering the whole show is consisted of five people speaking from behind a table, it carries a lot of flair – the use of candles provides a suitably spooky atmosphere, and the team’s dynamic and confidence enraptures you in their narrative. Lights Out is thrillingly unconventional, sits in a sweet spot of tension and comedy, and is absolutely worth your time this Halloween.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Pleasance Theatre as part of London Horror Festival 2021
“Hammerton and Champain have fantastic chemistry; their sisterly dynamic highly believable as it fluctuates between highly loving and purposefully antagonistic”
Flushed, the multi award-winning play directed by Catherine Cranfield, is the latest in a line of much needed productions exploring women’s health. We meet two sisters, Jen (Iona Champain) and Marnie (Elizabeth Hammerton), who are best friends. They go on double dates together; they go clubbing together; and they wait nervously on the results of pregnancy tests together. However, when twenty-five-year-old Marnie’s period is late and she is diagnosed with Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (a sort of early menopause), the siblings’ relationship is tested as the younger Jen struggles to comfort Marnie appropriately.
A story told against the backdrop of seven different bathrooms from nightclub to flat, Flushed explores the impacts of the rare medical condition and the desire to fulfil one’s ‘womanly’ purpose of having biological children.
Hammerton and Champain have fantastic chemistry; their sisterly dynamic highly believable as it fluctuates between highly loving and purposefully antagonistic. The pair are also dressed in colour matched outfits – pink and black – which connects them visually. Hammerton delivers a particularly powerful monologue about wanting to be pregnant (with a humorous interjection about revelling in the opportunity to pretend she is fat rather than expecting to overfamiliar strangers) and holding her tiny new-born for the first time between her palm and the inside of her elbow. Champain brings a wonderful humour to the play that helps to lighten an otherwise upsetting subject matter.
The set is simple, and it need not be any more complex. The duo makes good use of the sparse space – two toilets about two metres apart and a neon pink sign saying ‘toilets’ on the back wall – with some mimetic techniques such as acting opening the cubicle door upon entrance and exit. Many women would agree that the bathroom space is often identified as a refuge for female heart-to-hearts so this setting – though slightly comical – is completely understandable.
The lighting (Anthony Englezou) moves between pink and black and fades to darkness between each scene. The sound (Oscar Maguire) is well done especially when the sisters are in a club where we hear pounding but muffled music as if there really is a raging party going on next door.
Flushed explores an impressive amount in its sixty-minute run time. Having not heard of POI before last night, I am so pleased that theatre such as this exists to educate both men and women on little known but devastating health conditions. It is also a joy to see such tender sisterhood presented on stage. Cranfield’s production is an absolute pleasure and will no doubt leave most spectators both highly emotional and better educated.