Wednesday, October 26, 2016

'Truncated Nightmare Hour Live!: Episode 1' at the Old Red Lion, 24th October 2016

Horror/science fiction anthologies are having a day in the sun. Titans of the genre like Twilight Zone, Outer Limits or Tales from the Crypt once appeared to be a thing of the past, abandoned in favour longer, continuous narratives. Personally, I love the thrill of being introduced to a new world crammed with new ideas that bails before you have a chance to get bored.

Truncated Nightmare Hour is a sterling example of the anthology format and of what can be done with a generous splodge of imagination, performative charisma and top notch writing. What I attended was the recording of a podcast for later release rather than a 'proper' theatre, but it entertained as much as any play I've seen of late.

Our host for the evening is Sebastian Owl, owner of a sonorously authoritative BBC voice and aggressive presenter quips that reminded me of The Day Today era Chris Morris. Performing their own stories are James Hamilton and Molly Beth Morossa, together with a smattering of guest performers filling in the supporting characters.

First up was Morossa's The Thurstons, in which Owl poses as an obituary writer travelling to the isolated coastal town of Cradlestone, trying to unearth details about the mysterious and peculiar Thurston family. Rumours have trickled out about their strange bloodline: generations of inbreeding producing pallid skin, eyes with gigantic black pupils and tendency to be a bit bitey. If you have any genre familiarity you can probably tell where this one is going...

What transpires is a fusion between Fawlty Towers and Lovecraft - an unlikely but successful cocktails. Morossa plays a shy yet forceful hotel manager, trying to keep the prying journalist from the ominously locked room upstairs in which the last surviving Thurston slowly dies. There's a wonderful sense in imagining what's going on in that bedroom, from which unearthly, inhuman screaming and rivers of sticky black phlegm emerge. Despite it being funny as hell, there's also a genuine lyricism in the writing, particularly when we hear how Cradlestone changed once the sea turned black.

Up next was James Hamilton's The Goggles of Future Past. These goggles are a skin-crawlingly tantalising idea: when you wear them you can see a future you could have had, but now never will. Perhaps you would see yourself hoisting aloft the World Cup, or tearfully clutching an Oscar or accepting a Nobel Prize - all would apparently be within your capabilities, but now you will never achieve them. Who could resist? 

Not Ralph Stipple, who sees a vision of a reunion and idyllic future with an adored ex-girlfriend. He frantically tries to recreate the meet-cute circumstances that rekindled their love, but finds his efforts thwarted by a sadistic universe. We meet him tumbling down the rabbit hole of restraining orders and stalker obsession. The goggles turn him into a monster (and an all too real one at that), but a sympathetic one. We all embarrass ourselves in love from time to time, our own flaws recognisable in the pathetic creature Ralph has become.

Morossa, Hamilton and Owl are clearly onto a good thing with Truncated Nightmare Hour, it taps into the same cruel imagination that fuels Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, or the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. I'll definitely tune in for the coming episodes, featuring tales about punishment for not wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day, a sudden obsession with a football team and "high stakes deathmatches played against board games". 


(As it's not quite the end product, I won't give it any stars, but it was dead good)

'Truncated Nightmare Hour Live! is recording at the Old Red Lion every night until Friday (tickets). The podcasts will be here from 31st October.

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