Monday, October 26, 2009

Theatre: The Abattoir Pages

Originally on Londonist
here: I write about a horror theatre thing that had great atmosphere and effect but an unappealing script and plot.

You are invited to a secret party in the old abattoir by horror author Helen Mayer. You are called to the door. You are led into the dark. And you are kept there for the rest of the evening.

The Abattoir Pages by Foolish People (previously presenting Cirxus) and Guerilla Zoo, is staged in the old abattoir, Clerkenwell. Combining theatre, art installation, straight-up horror attraction and treasure hunt, it explores Gaelic and Pagan rituals, tenuous musings on artistic creativity, torture, abuse and human depravity.

Creepy moments abound in this impressive, genuinely scary space full of terrifying dark damp spots, embellished by impressive set and lighting. Forbidding masked ushers glide about. Talking is forbidden. The audience wanders freely around paintings and sculptures. A hidden bar with entrance test is a nice touch. Convincing dread and fear pervades throughout. Spatially and visually, The Abattoir Pages delivers all the right atmospheric, decorative thrills.

However... We never found the treasure hunt. When the first cycle ended we didn't know when or how to leave. Once the initial chills subsided, the less rewarding elements of The Abattoir Pages became apparent: it's a spine-tingling set but a toe-curling script. Picturesque girls in Camden Market couture muttered incredulous lines like "The human story is the blade which kills the truth of history with the poison of myth." Incomprehensible scenes played out between attractively tortured characters, all talking impenetrably about The Book, The Forest, God, Creation, Gwyllt... it was rather a relief when Helen Mayer and her wretched book were finally dealt with in the (anti)climax.

Like a Haunted House computer game designed by David Lynch, you could wander around for 30 minutes and be quite satisfyingly spooked. But the effects are blunted by a script mangling psychotherapy in a Gaelic mythology writing workshop. It's an entertaining Halloween outing at one of London's genuinely scary spaces, but go for the atmosphere, not for the theatre.

The Abattoir Pages at The Old Abattoir, until 1 November. Three entry times each evening: 7.30, 8.30 and 9.30 and special Halloween matinee performances on Saturday 31 October and Sunday 1 November. For more information and to book, go to The Abattoir Pages website.

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