“performances ranging from peculiar to haunting, with some humour thrown in for good measure”
Nothing says Monday night quite like sitting in an upstairs pub theatre complete with a temperamental smoke machine, listening to some good old spooky stories and being slightly creeped out by a selection of small dolls. Blackshaw Theatre’s ‘Scare Slam’ featured six performances ranging from peculiar to haunting, with some humour thrown in for good measure.
One of my favourite performances was ‘The Fatberg of Whitechapel’, written and performed by fellow northeasterner, Reece Connolly. A piece of advice – don’t listen to this one if you’re feeling at all queasy, as it is about a growing mass of filth, sewage and general horribleness growing underneath the London streets. Even worse, this fatberg is given a voice, a personality – it threatens to take over the city and then … the world!
Connolly’s clever rhyme and eye for detail (he doesn’t miss out a single thing that could be flushed away, and we’re talking everything from discarded wet wipes to used condoms), ensures that the audience will remember this story next time they dispose of well, anything.
A stark contrast to this was a tale written and told by Ed Hartland titled ‘Murder of Crows’ which was quite literally about him murdering a crow and then being a victim of their revenge. Listening to Ed perform this piece was captivating as during his gory confession of stamping a crow to death, you felt as though you had caught him in the act. He didn’t mean to do it. Promise.
“needs reworking and restructuring for it to have the effect it should”
Oh, where to start…
I will open by stating that The Dead, Live was really not my cup of tea. There were moments that were really enjoyable and began to grip me but these were few and far between; little glimpses of hope for this tragedy.
Daniel Thackeray had many good ideas for this production and I really enjoyed the key themes that the piece began to explore. However, I feel as though the play’s structure was a disservice to the potential of this piece. The way the play began ruined the rest of the performance. It wasn’t just Howard Whittock’s feeble opening and unnaturalistic acting. Whittock really struggled to deliver a convincing performance as Lawrence until he was performing the séance which was when he captivated me.
Personally, I wanted the séance to be the opening of the show because that would have completely changed the effect and impact on us as audience members. For me, the biggest issue with this production was that the writing lends itself to alienate the audience from the beginning. This makes us aware that we are in a theatre watching a performance. This felt very Brechtian in its nature, creating the verfremdungseffekt (or alienation technique) on the audience.
Whilst, I admire the exploration of doing ghost stories using a different structure it really does not work with this genre. Scarier theatre or theatre that aims to tell ghost stories works on heightening the emotions of the audience and immersing them in the world they see before them. This piece achieved the complete opposite making it a bit tedious to watch at times.
P H Fry’s sound design also didn’t help the piece, at times it actually jarred against the action on stage causing us to further distance ourselves. This especially happened when the badly chosen creepy voice came on; it needed to be something different, a bit deeper and more menacing – it did not incite any fear. This makes me question the impact and the effect the director Alex Shepley was aiming for as Fry’s creative collaborator and key visionary for the piece.
What I did enjoy was the casting of Anne Baron as the woman. She did lack a bit of truthfulness in her performance in the séance but she had a really creepy demeanour about her performance that worked really well.
Overall, The Dead, Live was a flavourless production with good parts but really needs reworking and restructuring for it to have the effect it should.