It’s one thing to watch a horror movie at home – you can switch it off if it gets too gory or terrifying. But what if that action is taking place on a stage in front of you, where you can’t explain away the inexplicable as mere CGI or cinematic trickery?
This is what's made Jakop Ahlbom’s stage show Horror a global hit – the “how do they do that?” factor dialled up to 10.
Now, it’s Melbourne's turn to see what all the fuss is about.
Horror is by writer-director Ahlbom and is billed as a physical-theatre show without dialogue. Trading talking for mime, movement, music and illusion, Ahlbom incorporates humour, slapstick, terrifyingly surreal imagery and horror effects rarely seen in the theatre. The result is a groundbreaking play.
Fresh from a successful season in Venice, the performance uses a classic trope of the horror genre – a ghost story. Set in a deserted old house (naturally) the show begins with a couple arriving on a dark and stormy night (naturally), and things swiftly turn strange. Clocks fall to the floor; televisions suddenly come to life, and the sound of children crying drifts throughout the house. Creepy stuff. And that’s before amputated hands assume lives of their own, or heads begin spinning. Literally.
“When I was young I would get excited watching a horror movie, the ‘bungy-jumping effect’ of going in and getting scared, but enjoying the sensation,” Ahlbom says over Skype from Amsterdam. “I was curious if I could get suspense and tension on stage. We mostly see dramas or comedy, but could you also make suspense? That was the starting point.”
The show took six months to devise; much of that time spent building the set and working on special effects with the help of a clever lighting technician and set and props builder. The magic and illusion the audience encounters are the work of Ahlbom himself who as a child dreamed of learning magic and has studied with a professional magician in Holland.
The cast is a mix of eight dancers and actors who incorporate sinister black humour and impressive physical feats with a musical score ranging from slasher-orchestral to the hard-rock sounds of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses.
Ahlbom is at pains to point out this isn’t about ghouls jumping out at you, nor is it a splatter and gore fest. “I wanted it not only to be a spectacular, entertaining horror show, but I also wanted it to be poetic, dramatic, touching emotionally, funny. And also a bit scary.
“Horror films have always been considered a B genre – A-list stars don’t perform in them, [but] I’ve been lucky the last few years. Now a lot of stars are happy to be in a horror movie,” he says.
Ahlbom has scattered references to some of his favourite films in Horror. Keen observers will pick up allusions to The Shining, Carrie and The Blair Witch Project.
Interestingly, there have been no extreme audience reactions to the often-bloody action on stage. “People are mostly enjoying it; seeing it in a positive way,” he says. “I wrote another show that was purely drama and did something with blood and three times people were fainting and the show had to stop. It was unbelievable. But that didn’t happen in this show.”
The show is not suitable for children – it is restricted to people over the age of 15. As for adults, “You will be safe in your seat. You can always close your eyes, and then it will be fine.”
Horror is showing at the Arts Centre Melbourne from September 18 to 22.