The Blue Room Theatre
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
It’s Halloween month, so to put us in the mood for the scariest time of year, Michelle Robin Anderson and her team of co-devisers and creatives have put on a spooky little show down at The Blue Room called Welcome To Slaughter. It stars herself and Jo Morris as a couple on a long, dark road to nowhere who encounter something sinister along the way. Part thriller, part drama with a peppering of comedic moments throughout, this light bite of a show manages to effectively bring a few classic horror movie tropes to the stage to give audiences a bit of a fright.
It’s pretty tough to make scary theatre; so much of what makes a horror film scary happens in editing with camera angles, obscured vision, pace, timing and building of tension through the soundtrack. But to this team’s credit, and due in large part to lighting (and co-direction) by Joe Lui and sound design by Brett Smith, they’ve pulled some of those ideas from the film world and made them work for live theatre.
For instance, what we can’t see is often scarier than what we can, and when we can’t exactly make out what lurks in the shadows, our imaginations go wild. We do the work creating as hideous a monster as our minds can fathom, and tension grows as we wait to discover what’s actually there. And once the monster has been revealed, that collective gasp and eek relieves the built-up tension in the room, making us laugh at ourselves and our silly fears. This particular type of audience manipulation doesn’t happen that often in the theatre, where audiences are used to watching performers manipulate themselves and each other for exaggerated reactions.
In fact, this is similar to a haunted house experience in a few ways. We’re led into the theatre in pairs or small groups through a darkened, leaf-lined corridor while spooky music plays. I half expected some hands to grab us in the dark, but it’s the actors who continue the tour in our place while we imagine ourselves in their shoes. And the set, designed by Shaye Preston is pretty much a real forest transplanted to the Blue Room stage; its lovely smell contrasts with what our other senses tell us about what transpires.
Because of the convention of needing to build tension, the top of the show seems to move at a glacial pace, and the piece may need a bit more fleshing out where the action and dialogue are concerned. Perhaps a few more creepshow moments wouldn’t go amiss, or it may need to take a sharp turn into completely different atmospheric territory to provide relief and a change of pace. Thematically, the symbolism would be difficult to miss even on a dark desert highway, but as a genre piece, we probably shouldn’t expect too much thematic complexity.
Jo Morris and Anderson make a funny pair, Morris the annoyingly optimistic type, and Anderson the annoyed type. The comedy in this show comes from how they niggle each other, and once the third performer, Emily Rose Brennen comes on scene, we get an even better sense of their relationship. Morris is exaggerated where Anderson is understated, and Brennan falls somewhere in the middle, but I really don’t want to give away her shtick or too many spoilers, so it’s best to leave further commentary aside.