HORROR playing at the Sydney Opera House is not a show that you want a reviewer telling you about. It is a show which is almost impossible to write about without accidentally giving away spoilers. So this here little piece of writing may well be a whole lot of nothing about a huge variety of something. For this is a genre buster of a production.
It is an homage to the horror film genre which has fascinated Swedish Director Jakop Ahlbom since he was a boy. The work is presented by his Netherlands based Jakop Ahlbom Company and from my perspective it isn’t just horror … but I’m not telling you what else it references due to my non-spoiler commitment. I can say that I didn’t see any space western in it.
Next obvious comment. Scary? Sure is … but with such a melange here, each person’s fright of choice seems to be different. I jumped several times and turned my face away during an evisceration … oops! My friend was passively cringing, the woman behind us was panting and squealing, the stranger next to me was swearing in fright and the young man in the row in front seemed to be looking at me for a disconcerting amount of time. And there was some man way down front who cracked up the theatre with a gentle, surprising and uncontrollable reaction late in the show. There is a great deal to react to in this extraordinary show, including the delicious black humour that pervades the production.
Not humour that is there to put you off guard so that something nastily sneaky can suddenly assault you, but humour which a natural fit for our watching selves. That’s the thing about horror, there’s a hugely dichotomous loss of self which goes bloodied hand in glove with our monitoring of our responses. The intellect fights with the desire to be taken away, absorbed and confronted by the nameless and malignant. That preparation for hell that ancient mystics wrote of. HORROR is a live show and your suspension of disbelief should, theoretically, be in your hands. Not here, within the excellence of this production.
It’s very bloody, you can see that from the photos. Gory and gruesome yet somehow gracious in the Gothic overtones of its silent, slow moving tempo. Well, early on. It sure as hatchet heads speeds up towards the end of its 90 minutes.
Violently physical, the cast perform the most extraordinary feats of mimetic physical theatre and I was well in front and couldn’t see a bruise anywhere. The craft is absolutely unsurpassable. These artists are extraordinary in their execution. Oh yeah and there is … several. Sorry!
Technically astonishing, too, with hundreds of lighting cues on which the surprises absolutely depend. They even turn off the stair lights at stages and that is seriously hair-raising. Add to this, music and sound effects that don’t just rely on volume. There is the most lavish use of speaker travel and bass but it’s the treble screech that gets me every time. Chilling! And take the la la la out the theme from Rosemary’s Baby and tinny it into a music box and the word creepy doesn’t do it justice. And their deck and set is just cracker for a staging tragic like me. Victorian chalkboard feel to sections, vaudeville prestidigitation in others and props that are just plain horrific to watch in use. And magic and illusion with a licence to thrill complete the precision of delivery which makes this such an extraordinary theatre-going experience. I wrote extraordinary twice, that’s not a spoiler though.
HORROR is visceral theatre of the imagination to fire up the brutal, remote corners of our residual lizard brain and explode the ancient chambers of the wondering heart.