Reviewed by Alex Foott
Sidling along the row and dropping into my seat, I thank my lucky stars that I have been placed slap-bang in the middle of the auditorium. No chance of being grabbed by any shadows lurking in the aisles (thankyou, very much!) Suddenly, the audience’s excited chattering is severed as we are plunged into darkness and await the beginning of the show. But nothing happens. Nothing but the steady sound of a beating heart. A moment’s silence and then a bloodcurdling scream rips through the air and sends me scrambling onto my neighbour’s lap. It is the oldest trick in the book and yet we are all positively quaking in our seats. Needless to say, this is not an isolated incident. Such is director Ian Talbot’s ability to create suspense that by the end of the piece we are loathe to set foot outside, peeking at the ominous gloom of the night from the relative safety of the foyer.
We are introduced first of all to Charlier, the supposed ‘Master of Terror’. Charming and menacing in equal measure, he coaxes us into his supernatural world where he tells us of a man who is tormented by his own portrait, in very much the same fashion as another famous narcissist. The story then shifts to the offices of Excelsior, a struggling Hollywood film company whose team is desperately trying to improve its ratings. Bernstein, the company’s studio manager demands that Herschell, the in-house writer, present him with a winning script within twenty four hours. Along with producer Roger and accountant Sandra, he works tirelessly into the night. The trio is visited by Charlier, who is now much older than at the beginning of the piece. He advances on each member of the company, presenting them with a blue envelope containing details of their own personal past horrors.
The cast of six are unparalleled in their ability to maintain the sense of dread and terror that pervades the story. Portraying rather stereotypical B-movie characters and delivering hypnotic monologues they achieve a sense of unease reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. Coupled with shrewd lighting it seems as though each scene is suspended in an indeterminate time in the middle of the night. The overall effect of which is utterly spellbinding. While there is nothing technically original in the scare tactics, they are executed with such appreciation for the human psyche that we fall victim every single time. Playing on the universally base fear of loud noises and our more developed understanding of the uncanny, Afraid of the Dark attacks us with all three of Stephen King’s types of fear: the gross-out, horror and terror.
The London theatre scene has witnessed numerous stories of ghosts and ghouls with varying degrees of success. Paving the way for a new breed of theatrical thriller, Afraid of the Dark exploits the long forgotten dangers that reside within our fellow human beings. With each of our senses targeted, we find ourselves dragged into Charlier’s world and are subtly reminded of our own personal demons. A perfectly eerie evening (and just in time for Halloween too!)
Afraid of the Dark
Directed by Ian Talbot
Performance date – Weds 11th September 2013