Halloween is a tricky holiday, it’s difficult to muster enthusiasm for a ‘holiday’ that offers no bank holiday, sunshine, or colourful explosives. It only lasts a day, and for some reason, it always seems to occur on a weekday.
Despite these hindrances there is always a desperate effort from anyone capable of selling a plastic pitchfork or miniature broom to encourage people to ‘celebrate’ it. Most people will have spent the last few years handing out a few sticky mini packs of Haribo and wondering which chapter of Nightmare on Elm Street will be shown that evening, possibly ‘Freddy Vs Alien on Elms St VII’.
As a result of this disenchantment, it’s always interesting when a new way of embracing this age old holiday arises, the opening of The London Horror Festival at The Courtyard Theatre in East London was certainly an interesting opportunity. It’s a little daunting when an event offers genuine terror, though it promised theatrical horror and lashings of the macabre, which was an intriguing premise.
The first production was Theatre of the Damned’s Revenge of the Grand Guignol. A selection of four plays adapted by the Parisian Theatre du Grand Guignol. Each play was dramatically different from the previous one, running through themes that heavily populate the most successful horror stories; love, obsession, insanity, revenge.
Each performance was based on a simple idea with a sinister theme, this was possibly the aspect that made it genuinely scary. There were tales ranging from long-established mad scientist and his crazy shenanigans, to haunting and unpleasant ghost stories. The themes were told in a refreshing way with a great deal of enthusiasm from the impressive cast. There was an impressive range of ideas from early 20th century gothic horror, to modern tales with rather shocking and unpleasant scenes, yet spiced with humour to relieve any genuine distaste.
What was most impressive by far was that it was truly chilling. The ingredients for horror were all accurate, a sinister nightmarish soundtrack, rather bleak scenery an interesting cast. There was also the interesting addition of a ‘smell track’ alongside it’s soundtrack, which infinitely added to the performance. The stories are haunting and horrifying, with enough blood, guts and comedy to create a truly terrifying and wonderfully entertaining production.
After this, there was a performance of The Dunwich Horror, an enactment of HP Lovecraft’s classic story. With a fine theatrical performance and interesting themes such as the rather sinister whippoorwills which are ever present become haunting in themselves. This was certainly well performed, but seemed lacking in atmosphere and its length resulted in the attention span of the audience failing a little. Though it tried quite hard, with many successes, it is evident that the main problem with this was perhaps it was just a poorly chosen story to represent on stage.
On the whole, a glimpse of The London Horror Festival would definitely be recommended. The Courtyard is certainly an impressive venue for such an event, and the range of performances and plays is guaranteed to have something for everyone. There are a variety of performances for your perusal over this festive season, including the disturbing Breathing Space, the oddity of Possession is 9/10ths and a representation of the darker side of London with Camden’s Most Horrid. There’s also a special Night of the Damned on October 31st featuring a variety of gothic rock music and performances. If you’re looking for a fun and imaginative way to celebrate Halloween, this is where to find it.
The London Horror Festival is taking place until 27 November at:
The Courtyard Theatre
40 Pitfield Street