Churchill Theatre, Bromley (venue)
28 September 2023 (released)
02 October 2023
After a successful run in small studio spaces and theatres last year Thunder Road’s deeply immersive production Shock Horror returns to the circuit.
Brilliantly combining live performance, illusion and film the play draws the viewer/voyeur inside the seemingly fractured mind of one Herbert Freidkin (in a nice nod to the late Exorcist Director, William). Herbert is horror film obsessive whose darkened past, buried secrets emotional scares and personal traumas all unravel in front of our eyes. As Herbert admits ‘every family has ghosts’.
Written and directed by Ryan Simons and starring Alex Moran as Herbert, Chloe Proctor as Norma, Joseph Carter as Jack and Chris Blackwood as Father Karras the production is both a lament and love letter to the classic ghost story and an exercise in film theory and practice. There are numerous references and homages to other classic works, the citations rewarding the keen film student and intriguing the novice. Additionally there are several audible and visual motifs throughout, including the haunting music box, nursery rhymes and their esoteric powers that evince a chilling aura, a red balloon and most significantly the ventriloquist’s dummy. The black comedic exchanges between the pair a particular highlight.
The set (by Ethan Cheek) is a wonderfully constructed dilapidated cinema. Its ruins and debris a reminder of the heady days of the flicks, as a space for sanctuary and salvation and - in light of Bromley’s Churchill Theatre being under threat from the forces of moneyed avarice in the name of ‘progress’ aka estate land grabbing – also the fundamental role that art should play within communities.
The action is brilliantly communicated by Moran’s singular presence and flashbacks and memories ‘relived’ via the cinema screen. The others cast members’ absence only adding to the ethereality and the cracked nature of Herbert’s grasp on reality. External and internal collapses, voices and noises that seemingly lurk within and without.
The Metropol Cinema (‘the window to the world’) is where Herbert spent most of his dysfunctional childhood. A heavy-drinking projectionist father whose own horror film obsession (‘that filth’) only served to further derange his wife, Norma, convinced that ‘darkness’ reigns within the walls’ leading to a priest, Father Karras, to attempt to exorcise any malevolence. Herbert is ‘identified’ as the source of the malevolence and packed away to a ‘school’ furthering Herbert’s isolation and sense of abandonment.
‘Demon seed’ Herbert has inherited his father’s ‘vision’ and kept his hat all the better to carry on the lineage. The screening of his magnum opus Shock Horror is a desperate attempt at attaining absolution and bringing a resolution to his internal agonies. However, his dream takes a turn for the worse and we get to witness the fall-out in all its gory glory.
Special mentions must also go to the creative team. The lighting and sound design (Joe Price and Beth Duke) wonderfully add to the air of menace. Ben Parsons’ music (an absolute necessity for the horror genre) is a delightful medley of riffs, ticks and echoes, but is a masterful set of compositions in its own right. Sam Luton and John Bulleid’s illusion designs are brilliantly orchestrated and intensely add to the overall immersive feel.
Shock Horror is touring the UK until November 18th.