REVIEW: Horror (Auckland Arts Festival)

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park

Presented by Jakop Ahlbom Company

[Here’s Johnny (and other references)]

If you adore the horror genre, then Jakop Ahlbom’s masterpiece is an absolute must-see. As spectacles go Horror is as spectacular as you can get. The show is a true homage to the horror genre and begs for a cult following.

The attention to detail is magnificent in both the set design and costume, and lighting and sound design team have worked wonders to imitate visual trickery only film can usually portray. The technical wizardry that creates the effect of ghostly interference is also something to marvel at. The set boasts a cross section view of the inside of an Edwardian home, redecorated in a stagnant mid-20th century style that suggests a suspension of time. The parlour and outside of the house are separated by panels that can become transparent when needed, allowing the set to adapt to the unraveling horrors.

The abundance of horror film references make it clear that Horror has been created by a true horror connoisseur. To name a few: flickering hand held camera footage echoes The Blair Witch Project; the iconic image of the disjointed young girl from The Ring emerges from the television set; and the axe wielding predatory chase of the The Shining. These moments trigger exciting and spinetingling memories.

Another reason to watch the show is to experience the fantastic range of theatrical skills the performers offer, from mime to illusions to amazing physical theatre. In a culture that leans on naturalistic acting styles it’s refreshing to see a utilisation of these uncommonly seen skills. All the actors are wonderfully multifaceted, and, despite the lack of voice, manage to portray the right amount of fear and desperation the characters need.

After sitting through a very reactive audience you do realise that Horror becomes comedic on stage. It’s no secret that bad horror films tend to become great comedic fodder; for some reason we haven’t quite nailed down the elusive horror prescription perfectly enough to consistently replicate it, and so often horror movies fall into the “so bad it’s good” category. While Horror did not set out to be a knee slapper, all around audience members were squealing with laughter at the action on stage. This is perhaps not a failing on the part of the creator or performer, but of the medium. Theatre is too live and all too knowingly fake. The audience is as present as can be whilst still sitting comfortably away from the action. At times the grisly elements of the gore were lost on anyone sitting more than four rows back and centre, and became an obvious trick. Without the guidance of the camera lens that gives the opportunity to observe, but also limits our knowledge, we are given too much freedom to see the tricks as they come to truly be scared. This isn’t to say the experience isn’t thrilling. Each little reference sends a little shiver down your spine as you relive that treasured moment of a true scare from great movies past.

Horror plays at the Civic until 26 March. Details see Auckland Arts Festival

SEE ALSO: review by Leigh Skyes

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