I have been looking forward to Theatre of The Damned's new production The Horror! The Horror! for a couple of reasons. One, I know one of the writers, a fellow Exeunt scribe whose work I've been impressed with before, but secondly because it was set in one of my favourite spaces, Wilton's Music Hall. The world's oldest surviving Grand Music Hall, Wilton's is a wonderful venue, wearing its history on its slightly shabby sleeve, and as its main hall is currently being renovated, I was keen to see how the rest of the building would be used.
Overall, I wasn't disappointed, as the show was enormous fun, and perfect for a pre-Halloween outing. Following a bunch of music hall performers trying to impress 'investors' as their theatre comes under new management, we are led from one act to another through a maze of rooms in the ageing building, but things soon start to go dreadfully wrong...
A series of clever and entertaining scenes played out by an engaging and talented cast (special props to Alicia Bennett and Kate Quinn, whose opening scene is a standout, and features an infuriatingly catchy song that I'm still humming), the show uses Wilton's space beautifully, tapping into both its history and the always slightly illicit feel of being behind the scenes. While there are some genuinely creepy moments, and a few things that'll make you jump, it's more schlocky, gory fun than 'I won't be able to sleep tonight' terror (which is how I like my horror, so no complaints from me), and though it's easy to dismiss horror shows as cheap and easy entertainment, it's actually very clever - one of my favourite bits was an almost throwaway visual scene, so pitch black and perfectly executed (if you'll, ahem, pardon the pun) I'm still chuckling days later. It's also nice and short - as anyone who read my Sleep No More review will remember, my tolerance for being schlepped around in the dark is very, very limited, and at just over an hour this doesn't outstay its welcome.
Of course it's not without flaws. Although individually each scene works in context, cumulatively the show presents a picture of women I was fairly uncomfortable with (in fairness, I spoke to one of the writers afterwards, and he admitted the real difficulty in referencing historical horror tropes without reinforcing them, and said they may look at tweaking this to fix it). A scene with a splendidly unlikeable comedian (Jonathan Kemp) goes on a hair's breadth too long, and the logistics of fitting a lot of people into small spaces meant occasionally it was hard for everyone to see what was going on (not actually a problem for me, since I am a sharp-elbowed Geordie whose skills at getting to the front of a crowded room were honed in the heavingly busy pubs of Newcastle - my ability to get served and get a table in seconds remains legendary to this day - but I did hear others grumble).
But overall, it's an innovative use of a fabulous space, and I would heartily recommend it (alas, it's sold out now, but keep an eye out in case they return - I know they have some more shows in the pipeline, so maybe worth checking their website to see what's coming up) and I hope Wilton's puts on more of it's ilk.