Although horror’s influence can be found in every medium of entertainment, the genre is primarily associated with cinema, television, and literature. This is mostly due to the fact that they are more publicised in genre media, in turn making them more accessible for your average fan. However, one area that perhaps doesn’t get the attention it deserves, with its own passionate fan base, is theatre, which has been scaring audiences for centuries. The genesis of horror theatre has been debated by scholars for years, but the Elizabethan and Jacobean era between 1562 and 1642 is particularly notable for being highly influential. During the English Renaissance, shows deemed immoral – like Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (1594) and John Webster’s The White Worm (1612) – introduced tales with graphic violence to unsuspecting audiences; some reviled it, others embraced it. This paved the way for the emergence of Grand Guignol theatre at the tail-end of the 19th century, which showcased all things terrifying, absurd and avant-garde until the 1960s.
But, in the years since, horror theatre has remained a vibrant contributor to the macabre arts and continued to terrify, disturb and shock theatergoers. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1973), for example, is one of the most beloved properties in pop culture, whereas beloved cult classics like Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1986) and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1980) recently made the transformation from screen to stage, garnering huge plaudits and solidifying their legacies even more as a result. Horror is booming in every medium, because people love being scared in different, creative ways. And later this month, the Peacock Theatre in London welcomes back a show that typifies the genre on stage at its finest: Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror (2014).
The show, which premiered in Amsterdam in 2014, has garnered rave reviews from audiences and critics alike for creating an imaginative, gruesome, unnerving, surreal and hilarious homage to the genre. Taking place in a deserted mansion, the story follows a young woman, accompanied by her two friends, as she returns to her old family home to confront her troubled past. However, as these things go, it doesn’t take long before things start going bump in the night and all hell begins to break loose. Throw in a history of parental cruelty and a strange sister, and you have yourself a show rife with mystery and rich in madness.
Horror combines elaborate set-pieces with stage magic and mind-blowing optical illusions to create a Gothic marvel that’s almost cinematic in its scope and presentation. Furthermore, it’s evidently a labour of love for Ahlbom, who approached the project like a kid in a playground, indulging in elements of the films and sub-genres that it inspired the show’s creation. Ahlbom is a self-professed horror fanatic and this show is his celebration of his favourite scare fare, both classic and modern.
Known for his delightfully strange efforts, like 2012’s Lebensraum, Horror is bound to go down a treat with anybody who enjoys a night of bizarre, blood-curdling and spine-chilling entertainment. The show is a pastiche of some of the familiar, yet presented in a way that feels fresh, exciting, funny and terrifying. With nods to classics Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1974), The Shining (1980) and Ringu (The Ring, 1998), as well as modern offerings like Oculus (2013), Horror is littered with references to a litany of films that horror aficionados will have fun spotting – and with haunted houses, zombies, asylums, and with other surprises thrown into the mix, the haunted hallways of various sub-genres are explored.
The Evening Standard praised Horror for being “Clever, thoroughly entertaining and genuinely jump-out-of-your-seat moments.’’ Het Parool described it as “dark, terrifying, filthy, comical and absurd – and exceptionally well acted.” Similar praise has been echoed by other notable outlets, with the general consensus being that Horror is a delight that’s able to scare, entertain and impress in equal measure. All in all, it sounds like a fun night at the theatre, and one that should be experienced if you’re in town when it’s playing this summer.
Horror plays at the Peacock Theatre on Portugal Street, Holborn, from May 23 – Jun 10. For more information or to order tickets, click HERE.
Images: Jakop Albohm