Old Red Lion Theatre, London
They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, though perhaps the recipients of the Darwin awards should be mentioned too! Theatre company Danse Macabre has taken the original conceit of Sartre’s No Exit (three strangers who find themselves locked together in the afterlife) and turned it on its head. In their production, two lost souls have found themselves in Hell, but without the appropriate records or paperwork. It’s then left to the audience to ascertain why they’re there.
Taking improv inspiration from shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Neil the Devil’s intern (Thomas Barry) asks random questions to make the improvised scenarios as bizarre and comical as possible. Standing before the audience is Moron 1 (Joseph Willis) and Moron 2 (Guy Matthews) – two very different people in terms of build and temperament.
On the evening I attended, the first round of improvisation revolved around the demise of Jonathan (Willis), the least likely place where it took place and the least likely person responsible. This being the case, what was decided upon was a brioche bakery and Liam Neeson. Matthews’ Neeson accent was top notch and had me in stitches – especially with all the Taken references worked into the scene.
With the introduction of other characters such as Geoffrey – Hell’s janitor who died working as a stripper – and Beak McGee, the penguin with a ‘hashish dependency’, the suggestions and scenarios were cranked up to 11 on the ‘weird-o-meter’.
In terms of the format of the show, there’s certainly potential for it to evolve and incorporate more elements that change the state of play. While one of the role-playing scenarios involves a member of the audience, there’s scope for audience participation to be increased – especially if the initial suggestions are so random, there’s a limit to what even the most gifted performers can do while sticking to the ‘intractable elements’.
The members of the audience are each given a piece of paper that says “‘Welcome to Hell. You are No. XX in the queue. Thank you for your patience.” This Beetlejuice-esque touch can certainly be elaborated on and seeing as the show’s set in ‘Hell’, comical ‘punishments/forfeits’ could be dished out for arbitary reasons.
Even without these suggestions, Tales From The Phantasmagoria is a lot of fun and lends itself to experimentation and reinvention, keeping the format and humour perennially fresh.
© Michael Davis 2018
Tales From The Phantasmagoria ran at the Old Red Lion Theatre on 21st May and will taken to the Edinburgh Festival.
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