Terror 2009: Theatre of Horror and Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse, London

Reviewed by Maxie Szalwinska
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The Independent Culture

Macabre things are going on in Southwark Playhouse's Stygian underground space in the run-up to Hallowe'en. With its auditorium the temperature of a cold-storage warehouse, exposed brickwork and suggestively gloomy lighting, the venue provides a setting of dank dread.

The Sticking Place company have compiled a programme of four short chillers by Lucy Kirkwood, Mark Ravenhill, Anthony Neilson and Neil LaBute. Between the playlets, Sarah-Louise Young supplies Grand Guignol cabaret and comic relief, and her Piaf-esque songs about suffering are ghoulish fun.

Lucy Kirkwood uses the pressure-cooker insanity induced by the London property ladder as a starting point for her play Psychogeography. A couple of first-time buyers bicker by flashlight in the cellar of the house they're considering buying. Maxine (Zoie Kennedy) is pro: she wants a property with original fireplaces. Ian (Matthew Wilson) is anti: he thinks that buying a place once owned by a serial killer whose habit was to impale and skin his victims may be a mistake, even if it is a bargain. Kirkwood blends the terrifying with the ordinary, and a sound design of echoey sobbing noises in Adam Meggido's production adds to the lingering sense of dread.

Mark Ravenhill keeps things creepy in his monologue, The Experiment, in which he plays the satiny-voiced, slippery narrator. Somebody – though it's unclear exactly who – has experimented on a child to find a cure for a fatal disease. The story, and the narrator's level of complicity, keeps shifting. Ravenhill asks us to consider which version, if any, might be acceptable, and how much we might be willing to avert our eyes from for the greater good.

Anthony Neilson's Twisted, tightly directed by Hannah Eidinow, is a tricky cat-and-mouse game pitting a man imprisoned for murder against a bent psychiatrist in an evaluation that's meant to determine whether the former is a repeat offender.

The final short, Neil LaBute's graphic Some White Chick, has none of the complex allure of the other offerings. It just dazes you with its nastiness. LaBute is famous for his misanthropy, and here he shows us two conscienceless guys making a snuff movie. Is LaBute's play a depiction of human savagery or a prurient provocation that cashes in on brutal violence? Either way, it's disappointing.