666 HELL LANE at the VAULT Festival
“an intriguing mix of gifted improvisers and some still learning their craft”
The Free Association Improv Company is well named. Its latest offering, 666 Hell Lane, is an illuminating example of the company’s particular style of work. Staged in the appropriately named Crypt space at the VAULTS, Free Association present sixty minutes of “comedy horror”. The performance style is a low key kind of humour, filled with lots of references to contemporary movies, movie stars, and classic horror genres. But if you’re expecting to be scared out of your seats, or left aching with laughter, 666 Hell Lane will leave you, ultimately, a tad underwhelmed.
There’s still plenty to appreciate in Free Association’s work, however. The company is committed. There are several talented improvisers in the team. So what’s 666, Hell Lane about? On this particular evening, it’s about two start up creators who have lost their way in a forbidding forest in the middle of the night. It’s only a matter of time before they see a light among the trees, and find a creepy hotel presided over by a creepy host. Sound familiar? Yes, said host looks faintly reminiscent of Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Show. Sadly, there is no Frank ’n Furter to accompany him, but there are a lot of jokes about Rupert Grint. Either the Harry Potter star is a friend of the company, or else he is desperate for some publicity. And some work. But I digress. Seriously, 666 Hell Lane is all about digressions.
So let’s just back up a moment. Why have the heroes of this particular evening’s horror story, Bash and Crash, lost their way? Well, that’s how each Free Association show begins. The audience is asked to provide a question as a jumping off point for the evening’s comedy/horror story. The company take the question, “free associate” from scene to scene, until, eventually, many shaggy dog stories later, some sort of a conclusion is reached. On this particular evening, the audience asked “Why am I here?” It’s a nightmare question, really, and it says much for the performers that they took that on board, in the ironic spirit intended, and ran all over the set with it. A tortuous tale of disappearing diners emerged, complete with bumbling policemen, neighbourhood comedians desperate to deliver punchlines if not narrative coherence, zombies, and “genre hopping.” Every so often the audience would find themselves in yet another narrative space, and the diner would make a shift back to the hotel, or a video rental store, for example. (Do we still have those?) The contemporary culture jokes would then get a work out. Yep, these guys are pretty slick with all their self-referential irony. Hence all the Rupert Grint jokes, one presumes. And for some reason, Cate Blanchett’s Tàr came in for a lot of heavy hitting.
666, Hell Lane is not the worst way to spend 60 minutes, even if trains rumble loudly overhead every so often, and drown out the dialogue. You might miss a few essential plot points in that particular scene, but rest assured that if the cast gets into narrative trouble, there is always another performer waiting in the background to tap a shoulder, and get stuck into taking the story in yet another seemingly random direction. Performers Alex Holland, Graham Dickson, Alison Thea-Skot, Mariam Haque, Kiran Benawra, Luke Healy, Kat Bond and Laura Riseborough are an intriguing mix of gifted improvisers and some still learning their craft. At its best, free association is this company’s super power. But they could still use a more energetic presentation if they wish to use this American performance style and make it their own.
Reviewed on 7th February 2023
by Dominica Plummer
More VAULT Festival reviews:
Caceroleo | ★★★★ | January 2023
Cybil Service | ★★★★ | January 2023
Butchered | ★★★★ | January 2023
Intruder | ★★★★ | January 2023
Thirsty | ★★★★★ | February 2023
Kings of the Clubs | ★★★ | February 2023
Gay Witch Sex Cult | ★★★★★ | February 2023
Love In | ★★★★ | February 2023
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