Brighton Fringe 2015
Serial killer John Falkener is a dangerous psychopath who enjoys torturing his victims. He targets and gains access to the home of enigmatic widow, Phyllis Payne. The plot thickens as dark secrets are unearthed in this thrilling psychological black comedy
This play is genuine horror – the warning about the profanity and such like, delivered in a sinister oily tone at the start is truthful enough, but it just hints at the dark depths this two hander delivers. The chintzy armchairs, the cosy little table, the family photographs on the wall furnish a claustrophobic set. It doesn’t prepare you at all for the action that follows! One of the things I enjoyed most was the way you knew you were being set up, a feeling that is creepily tip-toeing around in the back of your brain, making you feel uneasy. But the quality and sheer presence of the acting and the dialogue keeps your focus clearly on the present.
Both Hilary Palmer and Rowan Dixon excel with perfectly played characters Rowan Dixon swings through the tropes of a serial killer’s savagery, self-pity and sudden switches of mood, by turn hilarious(this is black comedy as well as horror) and very very menacing. Hilary Palmer too, as Phyllis Payne, is a perfect foil, a woman of a certain age, embroidering her sampler to Mozart, suddenly invaded by the coarse evil of the killer.
The plot develops, as Phillis unburdens herself of her life story to curry sympathy with her torturer, punctuated by damage with knives, blows from a hammer, with enough blood to make you squeamish. I hope I’m getting the feel across – this isn’t a play for the faint-hearted. You get drawn into the story while waiting on the edge of your seat for an escape bid, an intervention, another bit of violence – the tension between the narrative and the horror is always maintained.
They use music well too, from the classical music that Phyllis listens to, to the heavy metal strident guitar that blares out at appropriate moments. Occasional soliloquies are emphasised with a single spot, the rest of the stage in darkness, expertly inserted into the ramping up of the story. I’m pussy footing around because I want to get a sense of the show’s affect without giving away the plot, but be assured your attention will be held, mainly at knife point.
It’s well written and well presented horror, its pacing just right, the turning up of the pressure is well managed, the violence is appropriate to the subject, just enough to keep you gasping in, well, horror, without going over the top. The humour works to release some of the tension without letting you off the hook for too long. It’s an entirely satisfying ending – definitely a Grand Guignol of fringe theatre. It’s said of Grand Guignol in Wikipedia that audiences “endured the terror of the shows because they wanted to be filled with strong “feelings” of something”. That would certainly serve as a fit epitaph to this finely realised example of the genre.