Creator: Blackshaw Theatre
In an age of climate change and pandemics, the supernatural is not nearly as scary as the natural. That may be why Blackshaw Theatre Company, in its sixth annual Scare Slam, keeps the mood light.
The age guidance of 14+ is puzzling. A timorous six-year-old might be unnerved by the red-lit smoke swirling round the mic before the show starts, but if they could tough it out they would be thrilled to find the scatological humour in Sarah Tejal Hamilton’s poem, as 666 PROBLEMS is aimed squarely at them. Ellie Pitman, the compère, is more Miss Honey than The Man in Black. She’s bubbly, twinkly and smiley – the Reception teacher you wish you’d had. Her introductions are upbeat and whimsical rather than sinister.
Each of the five acts is well-performed, mostly by the author, and they all have something of interest. Julie Barnett starts her story The Woman on the Ceiling with the new normal: she catches ‘it’ on the train. She goes on to describe vivid febrile illusions, including an unforgettably smelly visitation. Hamilton has some ingenious and comic rhymes. Rhiannon Owen’s Feed the World, skilfully delivered by Natalie Winter, is a delicious (this may not be the right word) variant of Sweeney Todd, delivering homemade sausages to the hungry, she tells them,’ “It’s Five Guys” – well it was true’. An Unusual Undertaking by Andrew James Brown tells an outrageous tale in a narrative poem, an old-school genre that recalls Victorian fireside entertainments. It’s so charmingly retro that it can get away with using ‘ravished’ as a funny word. Sam Greenwood gleefully enacts various roles his atmospheric Mr Tumnus. The most serious – and satisfying – piece is Sasha Ravencroft’s Gone. It’s an exploration of loss and leaving, which perhaps only fits into this show because it features death. It will resonate with many.
If you were hoping to be terrified or even just a bit scared, you will be disappointed. There is none of the menace of M R James or Edgar Allan Poe, none of the heart-stopping drama of The Woman in Black. Barnett’s story ends strongly, but loses shape in the middle, and it’s not clear, from one hearing, quite what happens. Similarly, Mr Tumnus seems to involve a lot of sandwiches on different Boxing Days – or maybe it’s the same day – it’s hard to tell.
Enhancing the cosy classroom atmosphere, Pitkin even ends the evening with a reading from a children’s book –Shock-headed Peter. She presents it to the audience as a great discovery, as if it wasn’t one of the most enduringly popular and constantly-in-print children’s books. Surely some of the audience would be familiar with the Tiger Lillies’ musical version? Her renditions of Little Suck-a-Thumb and The Girl Who Played with Matches are, however, excellent.
Scare Slam is a jolly evening. The most terrifying thing about it is the lack of mask wearing in the audience.
Reviewed on 24 October 2021