Theatre Review: Night of the Hellhound: Live! (LOST Theatre, London)

182763074_origRating: ****

In A Nutshell

An unexpected and wholly original Halloween show that, whilst delivering more satire than scares, produces chills and festive fun in abundance.

Overview

The remains of the infamous Lambeth Hound, aka the London Devil Dog, has returned to its home borough. At the LOST Theatre, we join a live radio show for this special and spooky unveiling. With an esteemed professor and a celebrity “psychic medium” invited as guests, things soon descend into stupidity. But beyond it grows a sinister and supernatural threat.

Writing

Robert Valentine and Jack Bowman’s approach of supplying chills and frights through this imaginative alternate reality really is different and unusual from your usual Halloween offerings. We’re the audience of a live radio broadcast unveiling of a supposedly cursed artefact: the mummified remains of a Bronze Age dog that was ritualistically slain. It’s not an overtly gothic setting: in fact it’s quite the opposite.  But it’s the first step in creating something that’s as unexpected as it is original when it comes to Halloween frights.

Valentine and Bowman have gone to some great and effective lengths to create what could otherwise be a very real history and watertight academia surrounding it. In fact, unless you knew better, you’re otherwise pulled in hook, line, and sinker into believing there is an actual legend about a demonic dog that roams Wandsworth Road. Everything is almost believable in it’s presentation. If it weren’t for the fact that you know that GLCR (106.66fm) isn’t a real radio station, you’d be completely fooled. Their efforts to purport this alternate reality, extending to websites, Twitter accounts, and even a celebrity cardboard cut-out in the foyer, really pay off: you’re involved at all levels of the story as it envelops you from every corner. The theatre’s staff also make cameos in going about their business as the show descends into a nightmare.

Audiences certainly shouldn’t expect a scare-a-minute outing along the lines of The Woman in Black or Ghost Stories. Valentine and Bowman aren’t trying to emulate these and are more about creating something new and different, and succeed in doing so. Therefore you won’t find yourself jumping out your set every five seconds. Indeed, Night of the Hellhoud: Live!’s scares and creepiness are rationed quite effectively. Overall, the show is more satire than screams, sending up bogus mediums, ghost hunting television programmes, and just how ridiculous local media can be. But when things start to get spooky, they really are quite chilling.  You always feel like something’s going to happen, but it seldom does, creating and uneasy sense of suspense juxtaposed against the farce being played out on stage

At the very end, it does get a bit unbelievable. But it’s been such a good show that you’re actually with it through to the bitter end and revel in the supernatural climax. It’s a blast from start to finish and something that’s a unique and wonderfully enjoyable.

[youtube http://youtu.be/5APrv9ohK0M]

Direction and Production

The overall production of the show really is top-notch. Nothing looks out of place or lack lustre anywhere; from the live video feed on a bowl of dog biscuits to some excellent surround sound effects. Particularly, the mummified remains of the Lambeth Hound look particularly gruesome and unnerving, being a slick doppelgänger for a real-life mummy.

Bowman’s direction is meticulous too. There’s always something going on somewhere, from the professor’s sardonic fidgeting, to the production assistants fretful wanderings around the audience. These constantly catch your attention and make you wonder what exactly is happening. Even if they are red herrings (or not) there’s never a moment when you lose interest or disengage with the broadcast’s shenanigans in this meticulously executed mystery.

Cast

The entire cast are really excellent in taking on their respective characters. Particularly, the constant squaring off of cynical Professor Jonathan Purvis, played by Tom Blyth, and exuberant psychic medium Josh Bartell, played by Troy Hewitt, is a real treat. They are always a great source of entertainment and really holds the show forth: Blyth being as wonderfully dry and severe as any real life academic is and Hewitt supernaturally channelling the likes of Derek Acorah. Marie Rabe as star presenter Michelle Mead captures wonderfully the ego of a small-time local celebrity, bouncing between arrogance and fraught mayhem when she starts getting out of her depth. As a company, each member put’s in a real gusto in bringing the show to frightful life, and are just as instrumental in the show’s sense of joy and spookiness as the rest of the production.

Verdict

It’s great to see something new for Halloween that’s not derivative, and instead is inventively original. But importantly, between the frights and frolics this is an incredibly fun show.

[youtube http://youtu.be/sM3VbewlHqA]

Night of the Hellhound: Live! plays at the Lost Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, until 31 October . Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.losttheatre.co.uk.

 

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