by Laura Ferguson
The show opens with discordant jangling: an offbeat macabre accordion, chord-less guitar strumming and a tinnitus inducing triangle bleating its tinging roar. Tom Kereama, for this opening scene, plays a ringmaster conducting this racket. Kereama’s antics make me laugh, his anguish becoming clear and he ends up falling to his knees, clutching his tortured ears, his reaction to the cacophony being exactly how my less socially-refined self would love to. The noise in this first scene is cleverly used to bring out my uneasiness and build tension. It is a fabulous opening and blends the comedy easily into the sense of palpitating dread I so enjoy in my horror movie viewing. The inharmonious “music” reminding me of the French psychological horror film, Irréversible by Gaspar Noé; the intentional use of sound creating a more visceral elongated reaction in us than your standard looming bass that leads to usual jump scares.
It strikes me with surprise to see how obviously the cast are enjoying themselves. There is an ebullience in the room that I have rarely experienced in theatre shows. The cast love this show, the brightness in their eyes and their genuine smiles catching on as infectiously as a zombie plague. My laughter and grins rarely leaving my face, I have to clasp my hand to my mouth when Catriona Tipene tells me morosely, “There’s no smiling with Edgar Allen Poe” during the Poe Party skit. I try to suck in my cheeks and bite my lips, but the giggles kept coming no matter what.
Asides to the crowd are used with great effect. How appropriate in a Halloween skit show; audience interaction is terrifying! The herd mentality and social dread projecting the internal mantra don’t-pick-me-don’t-pick-me-don’t-pick-me comes alive in this show. We are the causation of our own jump scares, the absurdity of being lunged at by an accordion player is ludicrous but also takes my dread and turns it into a tangible horror. Of course, there is no real danger here and I love how I get to laugh at my own ridiculousness.
The skits themselves are all crafted beautifully and Ryan Cundy’s writing is outlandish, morbid and heartfelt. He utilises a vast array of emotions within this show and I enjoyed the rollercoaster, or maybe ghost train, of experiences. I pity a young, bullied girl, laugh uproariously at a murderous elderly woman, I recoil from the psychopath on the train. These are just some examples of the stories I hear during the show. The visual beauty of the shadow puppet play, Lucy, is one of my favourites. The story creating a debate after the show between my friend and I as we dissect the details and come up with theories that I’ll resist sharing so as not to spoil.
The entire cast is remarkable. From Kenneth Gaffney’s chilling performance as your worst Tinder nightmare to Tom Kereama’s touching performance depicting mental illness and homelessness, there is never a moment when I’m not bound by intense feeling. I am particularly astounded by the performance of Katie Boyle. Boyle’s quirkiness in the skit, Identity, was incredible. Her mannerisms bring the script alive with personality, upper lip pulled back away from her teeth, and arms flailing wildly, Boyle embodies this caricature of the magic pixie dream girl rivetingly. And I love her 4th-wall breaking grandmother character, Adelia. Her vitriolic cussing over some kidneys before calling out props wizard, Luke Scott saying, “They don’t even look like kidneys, what’s the props guy doing?!” making me laugh so hard I almost fall over.
Cundy’s writing is full of such little gremlins of comedy. I am no fan of formulaic sitcoms, but Cundy’s creation of Longstramus, the 9’8” Vampire Flatmate, is definitely a show I could happily watch five seasons of and have consistently on my Recently Watched Netflix playlist. The single greatest line I have heard all month was in this skit, “Allen, I have neither the time nor inclination to explain the intricacies of hummus to you!”, which I am sorry if I have murdered in a ‘Play it again, Sam’ way, but Cundy’s character of Longstramus is hypnotising and positively slayed me.
The creepy and absurdity never came together so well as our closing skit, The Little Man in the Beetroot Can. Just saying the name makes me laugh and Cundy lends his extraordinary voice talents to bring to life the terrifying creature of the Little Man in the Beetroot Can. The guttaral, sneering voice makes my arm hair stand on end as if it, too, wants to get as far away as possible from the little man in the beetroot can. The descriptive nature of his name belies the fear this character instils and Kereama does fantastically to bring my personal feelings alive, we are scared, confused and crumbling under the pressure of his character’s dilemma. He paces, eyes wide in fear, grasping his face they way I do when I’m scared and trying to make sure I remain myself, Kereama clutches, stretching the blanched skin in his intensity. Does he accept his own death, or those of the people he loves? The decision is made and right at the climax we are interrupted by the most terrifying creature of all – a dance teacher. Catriona Tipene claims the stage for herself and her dance crew ending the show with a hilariously enunciated and diction filled rendition of ‘Men in Black’ by Will Smith.
I leave with joy and tingling elation shivering through me. This show feels like a discovery. New, raw talent oozed out of Spook Week like a swamp monster out of a lake. Really, it was so incredibly great. Horse With No Name has only been a production company for two months. Two months! If this show is only their first offering, I cannot wait for the Fringe Festival to roll around so I can more from these gifted individuals. Spook Week is hilarious, offbeat, creepy and amazing. It is everything I wanted in a Halloween show but surprised me in being so much more. Is there such a thing as a positive jump scare? If not, this show comes as close as you can to being one.
Spook Week: A Halloween Skit Show is currently showing at 19 Tory Street until Saturday 4 November. There are no bookings, but you can access to the Facebook event here.