A ride on the gloriously gory ghost train with Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror

Peacock Theatre, London
May 23, 2017

David Mead

An old, crumbling, deserted house in the woods that looks like it hasn’t been lived in for many years, a place of bad memories where people and ghosts that appear and disappear in an instant, where figures levitate and get dismembered courtesy of a large axe that just happens to be around, and that harbours a clothes closet where many of the ghosts seem to live. Welcome to the world of Jakop Ahlbom’s physical theatre homage to the horror movie.

Horror sees three young friends, two men and a woman, arrive to stay the night. They wear blood-red rain gear, a sign of things to come. It turns out that this was the place of the woman and her elder sister’s very bleak upbringing by their cruel and abusive parents. Unfortunately for the friends, memories don’t stay buried, and the dead don’t stay dead as the elder sister’s spirit rises to take its vengeance.

HorrorPhoto Horror Anna Karczmarz
Photo Horror Anna Karczmarz

Once the friends are settled in, strange things start to happen thick and fast. At times, it’s like being on one of those old fairground ghost trains as it careers along. Courtesy of some clever lighting and very brief blackouts, and an ingenious set, ghosts leap out of nowhere. A baby’s cries are heard, and televisions switch themselves on and off. You never quite know what or who is coming next.

As the night unfolds, nods and tributes to classics of the film genre abound (The Exorcist, The Ring, Poltergeist, Carrie and The Blair Witch Project are just a few) but it’s not necessary to recognise them to enjoy the ever-increasing bloody mayhem.

Guessing who will be the last one standing keeps things interesting plot-wise, although subtle, Horror is not. Unless you’re of a particularly nervous disposition, it’s not especially scary either. Indeed, at times it’s more Scooby Doo than anything else, although there are things that might make you jump or turn your stomach, such as someone’s entrails being pulled out through their mouth. Best are the tension-filled flashbacks that reveal the hidden past, during which you could have heard a pin drop. Those of the two sisters being abused by their parents in the kitchen are especially gripping.

HorrorPhoto Sanne Peper
Photo Sanne Peper

Everyone will have their favourite moment. One sequence has one of the men’s hand become bewitched and start to attack its owner. That handy axe comes in useful (cue a nice spray of blood). Having been cut off, dismembered, it takes on a life of its own, even when a metal bucket is put over it. There are other times when you will wonder how things are done too. How did that levitating body disappear from under the sheet?

While the dance sequences are few and far between, the extended climax in which three men set about a lone woman is packed with fast moving choreography. I’ll not let on who meets a violent end and who is the last person standing.

All this happens to a soundtrack full of creaks, screams, cries and gurgles, plus a music box and, of all things, The Osmond’s Crazy Horses.

Horror may not have you hiding behind the seat in front of you. It may, at times, be as low brow as the film genre it pastiches. It is certainly full of clichés. But who cares, because it’s all done with such razor sharp precision by Ahlbom and his brilliant cast, with Judith Hazeleger and Gwen Langenberg as the two sisters standing out in particular. It makes for an evening that’s hugely entertaining and loaded with stage magic and special effects galore.

Horror is at the Peacock Theatre to June 10. Visit www.sadlerswells.com for details.