DramaReviewSouth West

Shock Horror – Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Reviewer: Francesca Parker

Writer: Ryan Simons

Director: Ryan Simons

Thunder Road, supported by the Arts Council England, embark on another chilling nationwide tour and their new production is currently playing the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. Shock Horror is a hair-raising concoction that has been described by some critics as a fusion of Stranger Things and The Woman in Black, however, that feels a little crass – it’s subtler in its composition. It’s more like the love child of Perkin-Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper and Bank’s, The Wasp Factory.

The story’s protagonist is Herbert, a filmmaker with a profound love for horror, brought to life by the brilliant Alex Moran. The audience journey to the decrepit Metropol cinema and are immersed wholeheartedly into Herbert’s fantasy, whereby he unveils his latest creation. Shock Horrorpeels back the layers of his dark and haunting childhood, which become increasingly unhinged as the play progresses. The explanation as to why becomes increasingly clear when the father, played by Chris Blackwood, is introduced. Obsessed with screening horror films, he neglects his son and isolates his wife. Meanwhile, Herbert’s mother (Chloe Proctor) is plagued by something she ominously referred to as ‘the darkness in the walls.’ As the story unfolds, the audience are delivered countless shocks and are faced with unexpected twists and turns.

Ryan Simon’s script skilfully captures and holds the audience’s attention from curtain rise to curtain fall. It’s a treat for horror aficionados and offers numerous nods to iconic films – including Kubrick’s, The Shining and Muschietti’s, It: Chapter One – both notably written by Stephen King. The synergy between pre-recorded film and live performance is expertly orchestrated by director Simons, ensuring a seamless and heart-pounding experience. Not to be overlooked is Ben Parsons, whose musical score complements the on-stage action, setting the stage for a tense and eerie atmosphere throughout. Together, they build suspense unrivalled by other productions; so much so, that one member of the audience noted that she was receiving constant notifications, throughout the production, that her heart-beat was ‘rising to unnaturally high levels’.

This one-man show requires a talented individual to make it not only viable but enjoyable and Alex Moran’s connection with Herbert ensures your heart will skip a beat. His storytelling prowess breathes life into Simon’s script. His emotional depiction of Herbert’s trauma beckons the audience, willing or unwilling, to connect with and the unfolding events. Moran was superb throughout and, although strong support in Proctor, Carter, and Blackwood is present, he steals the limelight. Chloe Proctor’s nuanced portrayal of Herbert’s mother evokes a certain amount of empathy, but the fractured relationship between mother and father may at times feel a little strained.

The production boasts moments of sheer brilliance on the stage, and directorSimons deserves applause for this. Unfortunately, however, the production did suffer from a few technical difficulties on its opening night, but this did not unsettle Moran one bit. Maybe the ghosts of the Exeter Northcott theatre took umbrage to the new residents and wanted to throw a few of their own spanners into the works? Who knows?

In a nutshell, Shock Horror offers a spine-tingling evening at the theatre, with one standout performance at its core. It’s delightfully unsettling and a must-see for anyone with a penchant for the gothic, an obsession with horror films or just a good fright night in the lead-up to Halloween.

Runs until 14th October 2023

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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