Horror is the latest creation of Swedish theatre maker Jakop Ahlbom and his Holland-based physical theatre ensemble. It pays loving homage to the horror movie genre, seeming to reference the entire cornucopia – from House on Haunted Hill to The Ring. At the same time it can be seen as a stand-alone psychological thriller – exploring childhood trauma, as it tells the story of a woman who returns to the house in which she was once abused in order to battle her demons.
The challenge of making a stage play that responds to and re-enacts existing film is not a new one to Ahlbom – his last show to be performed as part of the London International Mime Festival was a tribute to the silent films of Buster Keaton. As with Lebensraum, Ahlbom manages in Horror to pay his respects to the films it is inspired by whilst at the same time creating something truly original. The carefully choreographed movement sequences, as well as the imaginative use of lighting and scenic effects, help to create a warped sense of reality that though less jumpy than a snappily edited horror film has an equal if not greater capacity to disturb.
The production is on a West End scale, and the execution accordingly slick. It’s sort of like what The Woman in Black would be if it was tastefully designed and imaginatively complex. One sequence in which a bewitched hand starts to attack its owner – forcing his friends to sever it with an axe and so create a dexterous mutant with a striking resemblance to the Addam Family’s Thing – is a definite highlight.
My only issue with Horror is the gratuitous violence, and especially a needlessly aggressive and lengthy scene in which three men attack one woman. As part of a revenge plot, a sympathetic reading is that it’s a feminist rebuff of victim narratives. But still – featuring what looks suspiciously like sexual violence to provide entertainment is something I think Ahlbom should be above, even if it is a standard trope of the genre he’s parodying.