“while these stories will have you on the edge of your seats, there are also moments of laugh out loud humour to lighten the load of existential dread”
Anthology is a dazzling collection of three short plays written and directed by Chris Lincé, and performed by Carrie Thompson. Working together as part of Hermetic Arts, this extraordinarily talented duo shine darkly in the 2019 London Horror Festival. Special Sounds (inspired by An Individual Note by Daphne Oram); Wholesale and The Empty Clock, are modern, even slightly futuristic, horror stories. Each play highlights the heightened anxieties of our modern technological age in ways that will remind audiences of Edgar Allan Poe—if Poe had written on steroids while navigating the terrors of the gig economy, corporate marketing, and internet dating. But while these stories will have you on the edge of your seats, there are also moments of laugh out loud humour to lighten the load of existential dread.
Carrie Thompson, as solo performer, and ably assisted by the split second timing of sound and lighting effects, holds the attention effortlessly. And she does this in Special Sounds without uttering a single word. It’s a nice reworking of the trapped-in-a-room-with-a-monster trope, except that in this case, the monster is a dictation machine that has captured an audio typist. That’s a situation a lot of us can relate to. The second play, Wholesale, shows off Thompson’s ease with American accents as she ups the energy in this tale of a motivational speaker working for a modern corporation. Enlisting the aid of the audience for this one, Thompson appears to be selling the virtues of a new concept of marketing based on implanted memories. The idea of some corporation tampering with a cherished memory as a marketing gimmick is a thought horrifying enough to cause any number of sleepless nights. Thompson and Lincé save the best for last, however. The Empty Clock is the most Poe like in Anthology—but updated for the twenty-first century. A modern young woman meets a man online, and what happens next as the woman’s grandmother clock gets involved in their relationship is truly the stuff of nightmares. Echoes of The Fall Of The House Of Usher and The Oblong Box resonate throughout The Empty Clock. Lincé’s writing is so vivid that it is enough for Thompson to simply sit and narrate this terrifying tale.
Anthology plays for only one night at the 2019 London Horror Festival unfortunately, but set a google alert for this company—you’ll want to see whatever Lincé and Thompson dream up next. So what if their material gives you nightmares. These are bad dreams that make you think.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Pleasance Theatre as part of London Horror Festival
“there are so many loose ends to tie up at the end, that the resulting denouement seems a bit laboured”
Ecuador is the location for G.M.C (Gerard) Lewis’ contribution to the 2019 London Horror Festival at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, and The Hypnotist adds a nicely warm and tropical feel to counter wet and chilly October days. Produced by the Monkey’s Fist Theatre Company, this tale of an innocent young ecotourist meeting ancient evil in the jungle has the elements to make a satisfying contribution to a Fright Fest. Does it succeed in chilling the blood of the audience as the story proceeds? Not entirely, and it has nothing to do with temperature. The chief problem is that The Hypnotist is overladen with detail and too many story lines. The plot struggles to integrate Laura the herpetologist, Garrett the aforesaid ecotourist, Sandy the anthropologist and the late introduction of an Irishman named Daragh, plus lots of references to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and mysterious disappearances of rich inhabitants there. Add to that Laura’s snakes, and an overload of information about ancient peoples whose rituals and pharmacopeia have been appropriated by Sandy for her anthropological studies. But there is never a satisfying explanation for why the practice of western hypnotism is combined with non-western shamanistic rituals. Otherwise, this wealth of material does come together during the course of the play, but there are so many loose ends to tie up at the end, that the resulting denouement seems a bit laboured.
The actors do their best with The Hypnotist, and they are an engaging group of performers. Lauren Barnes as Laura is an intense and detail driven scientist, and the naive and far too trusting Garrett, played by Nic James, is drawn to her and her snake charming ways right from the start. Sandy, played by Maria Pearson, commands the stage when she is on it. Colin Hubbard as Daragh has the least to do in this four hander, but he handles the role of the “heavy” with just the right amount of creepy can-do.
The biggest weakness of this production is the staging. Despite an elaborate set with lots of tropical plants, tents and the paraphernalia of camping, The Hypnotist is a drama about states of mind, and all this naturalistic detail just gets in the way. Some of the essential details mentioned in the script—such as the continual repetition of a hammock “as your safe place”—become distractions as you search about the set for a hammock without seeing one. The snakes are disappointingly small when finally revealed. Andrea Hazel Lewis, who directs, has to guide her actors through this mass of detail, where perhaps a more uncluttered set (and script), and more reliance on lighting and sound effects could have set the scene just as effectively. Eddie Mann’s music and sound effects are certainly up to the task.
Fans of horror movies like The Serpent and the Rainbow will probably appreciate this tale of ancient wisdom being misappropriated for modern purposes. However, audiences who prefer more uncluttered trips to landscapes of terror may find The Hypnotist a less satisfying excursion.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Pleasance Theatre as part of London Horror Festival 2019