One of the great things about the London Horror Festival is the sheer diversity of shows on offer. Last night I took in two very different shows at Camden Town’s Etcetera Theatre, one knockabout funny and the other was rather more disturbing.
First up was The Monster Hunters: LIVE! A Knife at the Museum, a homage to that wild streak of psychedelically surreal creativity, which swept through British film and television during the 1960s and 70s that gave us some hit-and-miss Hammer Horrors as well as shows like The Avengers, Dr Who, Department S and The Persuaders.
So, it’s 1971 and Roy Steel (Matthew Woodcock), a hard drinking, womanising big game hunter, and Lorrimer Chesterfield (Peter Davis), an occult studies professor and possessor of the second largest brain in Britain (a kind of low rent Alan Quatermain and Van Helsing), are tasked by Sir Maxwell House (Simon Kane) to investigate the strange goings on at the Museum of Torture in a disused London tube station owned by the mysterious Genevieve (Laura Marshall).
Affectionate spoofers of 60s/70s cult viewing, the Monster Hunters were established with a live performance at 2011’s London Horror Festival and since then have recorded a number of audio adventures. Last night’s performance was recorded for podcast in much the same fashion as a radio drama: reading from scripts in front of the live audience, but with the added attraction of some rather neat outlandish 70s costumes. Naturally, recording any new show live comes with risks and there were a couple of fluffed lines, but overall the Monster Hunters acquitted themselves well with a nicely observed parody complete with recognisable character archetypes and some very silly gags.
You can find out more about the Monster Hunters and download their free audio adventures here.
The second performance of the evening was a completely different matter. Ladybird tells the story of three female patients in a mental institution together with their equally institutionalised nurse. New patient Elizabeth undergoes Electro Convulsive Shock Therapy to help her deal with past trauma and her introduction into the group forces the rest of the group to recount how they came to be in the asylum and confront the true horror of the situation that they find themselves within.
Inspired by Lisa Appignanesi’s book Mad, Bad and Sad, Ladybird is part scripted, including a fair dose of Shakespeare, and part devised on the spot making each performance unique. It’s a pretty harrowing show with full-on performances by the four members of Frying Pan Alley in their debut production, and it will make you think about and question your attitude towards mental illness. On the basis of last night’s performance, I think Nichole, Elin, Hattie and Rebecca are certainly worth keeping an eye on for the future.
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Review by Simon Ball
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