Creators: Merely Roleplayers
The atmosphere is promisingly ghoulish. Four people sit at black-draped tables. Each has a candle in front of them, and on each table there is a witchy-looking candlesnuffer: also packs of what turn out to be Tarot cards. Out of the darkness looms a Man. He has rather nerdy round glasses, but never mind. He has a terrifying story to tell.
Merely Roleplayers is ‘a podcast where theatrical people play role-playing games’, and Lights Out is their first staged event, co-produced with Blackshaw Theatre Company. It’s a pleasantly nostalgic experience that recalls the early days of radio –like watching a party game where the players are exceptionally good at improvising. The action takes place deep underground, so no one’s phone works, as in good old low-tech horror stories.
The idea is novel, but does not deliver much in the way of frisson. We know the outcome – everybody dies – the game is to find out how it happens. Even Matt the narrator doesn’t always seem to know. The setting is the Northern Line, the one that has the most sinister reputation in urban myth, but it’s not so much gothic horror as Jules Verne sci -fi, possibly dreamed up by medical students: it features ‘membrane’ and ‘goo’ ‘like they use in ultrasounds’. (They don’t seem to have thought of a deadly virus being passed silently among passengers though – that would be really frightening). The Tarot cards lose all their mystery when they’re just used to signal ups or downs – any old cards would do. Agnes, the young student with an interest in the occult, doesn’t get to do anything except notice – too late – that there may be ‘something satanic’ going on.
It’s quite fun, but not as scary as the show’s publicity suggests. Bits of paper excitingly go up in flames, and the interaction between the characters is entertaining. Their company name may be Merely Roleplayers but ‘merely’ is not the word for the way they inhabit their roles. Helen Stratton makes us care about impulsive Agnes, and Chris Stratton is comic as Harry the impatient journalist. Alexander Pankhurst is somehow endearing as Freddy the pizza-eating banker, and Natalie Winter, capable Kate with her Mary Poppins bag of tools, almost kids us into believing that she will save the day.
Reviewed on 24 October 2021