(Picture Credit: Douglas Shirlaw)
I have to share my congratulations with the Lyceum Youth Theatre. I’ve seen many of their productions in my time as a board member of The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company but none have been as absorbing and original as this. Conceived and developed by the company themselves and boasting no fewer than four directors (Mark Thomson, John Glancy, Christie O’Carroll and Amanda Gaughan) it’s a showcase of Lyceum directing and producing talent past and present and a fitting way for our amazing theatre to celebrate its 50th anniversary as one of the stars of this site specific production is the theatre itself.
We get to see dressing rooms, the undercroft, behind the bars, a now unused Victorian staircase and the dusty old ‘Gods’ as we are ushered around the building by a series of guides, one of whom turns out to be a performer in disguise.
What the production itself consists of is four ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ that are anything but dreadful as they spookily explore the mysteries of the Lyceum’s Victorian building, its ghosts and the secrets it may contain. Particularly affecting is John Glancy’s contribution in ‘The Gods’ in which a group of animal-masked performers summon up demons and appear to sacrifice the biblical Abel. The disused and peeling Victorian stairwell gives Mark Thomson a fantastic canvas on which to paint a picture of ghostly Victorian trauma with a number of particularly creepy vignettes.
The back stage area was used effectively to show a group of actors preparing for their stage performance in pale white light casting effective shadows in the gloom, and the undercroft hosted a particularly effective scene with three Cheshire Cats (or were they dastardly rabbits) that whirled the audience of only 25 about their space demonically.
The scariest moment was reserved for the bar area where we passed through another Victorian Bedlam. Pity the poor lady audience member who was first in, as she was met by a shrieking madman, caged to her left, in a moment redolent of Silence of the Lambs.
The dressing room sequence also had some particularly Kubrikesque moments that would not have been out of place in The Shining.
Throughout the hour long performance the young cast were entirely inscrutable as they delivered their otherworldly creepshow to perfection – not easy to keep up this degree of deliberate underplaying so consistently.
All in all a superb theatrical experience that had all of the audience laughing nervously as they approached each play within a play within a play full of trepidation.