Sarah-Louise Young and Desmond O’Connor: deft comic chemistry

Audience interaction and sadistic cruelty may sound like a sure recipe for criminal charges, especially in Soho. At theatre company The Sticking Place’s bracing hodgepodge of drama and cabaret, though, your physical integrity and enjoyment are both safe. Terror 2012: All in the Mind fires quick thrills at the crowd from every angle at a quickening pace, ranging from cheeky farce to grotesque satire.

This annual Halloween season of horror performance has featured new and experimental writing since 2004. Recurrent collaborators Desmond O’Connor and Sarah-Louise Young co-host the evening once more with a simple formula: four short plays framed by cabaret sketches in varying degrees of realism.

At times, they confront their allegedly real phobias onstage, recruiting volunteers to help with mock ordeals about spiders and, uh, voice loss (Ms. Young is a professional even in her emotional traumas). At others, they sing collages of terror imagery accompanied by O’Connor’s ukulele and an Ouija board. Their deft comic chemistry flows smoothly through the acts, enhanced by an atmospheric droning soundtrack, striking light effects and full use of the venue’s basement ambience, from the doors to the bar.

The four short plays in the programme are a mixed bunch, more engaging in their humour than their more unsettling or disturbing moments. Robert Farquhar’s No Place Like offers little more than a vague portrait of middle-class marital estrangement, sounding more like a fragment than a finished play. Equally inconsequential is Mark Ravenhill’s The Experiment, a tedious monologue of ambiguous memories about children who may or may not have been tortured by people who may or may not have existed.


Shaun Stone and Victoria Lennox add some bite to Terror 2012: All in the Mind at the Soho Theatre

Alex Jones’s Fifty Shades of Black, which stars O’Connor and Young as strangers clumsily attempting sadomasochistic role play, offers a few unforeseen gags in their mêlée of whips and chains. Most of the jokes, though, vanish in the repetitive dialogue and shifting tone of the piece. The party wouldn’t be complete without vampires, who literally draw blood in the sharp, cogent Hollywood satire of Mike McShane’s Representation. Who can resist an agent who only takes his cut once?

Drama and cabaret don’t mix easily, but the creepy-crawly gimmicks of the show result in a surprisingly coherent display. Graphic violence is at a minimum throughout the night: an immersive, suggestive spectacle is what prevails in Terror 2012: All in the Mind. Despite the event’s disclaimer about shocking and disturbing scenes, its enticing exaggerations only prove what every trick-or-treating kid already knows: life’s no fun without a good scare.

Terror 2012: All in the Mind. Hosted by Desmond O’Connor and Sarah-Louise Young. Soho Theatre, London W1D 3NE. 16-20, 23-28, 30-31 October, 1-3 November, 19:30. £10-15 (£12.50-13.50 concessions). www.terrorseason.com


Photo credits: Damian Robertson