I’m adding this feature to my blog today for two reasons. Firstly, last night, my husband and I, along with his parents, went to see a performance called ‘Shivers’ at the Cast Theatre in Doncaster. Secondly, I love theatre; the atmosphere, the story-telling, the nervousness and excitement I feel when seeing actors performing live, the kinetic potential of the props, and above all else, the opportunity to immerse myself completely, and without interruption, in another world for an hour or two. I love sitting in the dark; the anonymity of it, with the spotlight on the stage. It’s wonderful.
Shivers is a collection of three short stories taken from The Book of Darkness and Light. It is the second instalment in what I believe will be a trilogy, perhaps more. I do hope so.
It is performed with a simple stage setup, with Adam Z. Robinson as the story-teller and as various other characters. There are also some recorded roles as required, which adds to the unquiet tension. The tales are accompanied by the violinist, Ben Styles. I’m not a musician, so I will describe the music as only a layperson can. It varies between hauntingly beautiful melodies, heart-curdling ‘plinking’ and Psycho-style ‘sawing’. Better described, I’m sure it could be; however, the sound is perfectly pitched to allow the diction of what is being said to be heard clearly. It is very well produced, and faultlessly performed.
The play tells three short stories: The New Priest of Blackpines, Dead Air, and A Horror in Porcelain, and the premise of the telling is that a book has come into the possession of the story-teller and musician, and that they are charged with the deliverance of the tales to others. This is the Book of Darkness and Light, and we already, as an audience, accept that this inanimate object is possessed by a malevolence, and its evil will permeate through the performance.
The New Priest of Blackpines is a folk horror story about a small community on a remote North Sea island. A new priest has taken up position here, has fallen gravely ill, and calls for his sister, a doctor, to come urgently. This is a story about how isolated and remote communities foster their own superstitions and adopt their own, often gruesome and horrifying remedies to them. And there might just be something in the woods.
Dead Air is a different type of story. There is no monster in the woods. Here, we find a child’s fear, grown up, complete with the kind of post traumatic guilt, anxiety and terror which can result. A radio call show, hosted by a spirit medium, asks listeners to call in with their true ghost stories. She gets a good deal more than she had bargained for. It’s a brilliant story; there was palpable tension in the audience during this one.
After the interval, is the final story, which is the pièce de résistance; A Horror in Porcelain. I’m not convinced that there is anything more frightening than a lifelike doll. Numerous horror films use the diminutive human form as a medium to frighten us, usually through reanimation. Here though, the malevolence comes as a result of its origin, and is communicated to us by a character who is picking up and transporting the doll for a ‘collector’. Do you want to play? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to.
At the end of the show yesterday evening, the writer and actor Adam Z. Robinson, and the composer and musician, Ben Styles came out into the foyer and were chatting informally with the audience. There was also a team recording video reactions to the performance, for whom my excitable mother-in-law was a gift! We had all been completely absorbed in the performance and chilled to the bone by the stories that were told, but there really is no-one quite like her to put that across. The cast and crew were genuinely lovely people too and were obviously delighted that the show had been very well attended and had been enjoyed so thoroughly.
Playdead Press has published the manuscripts on book form, beginning with the credentials of the cast and crew, and then, a note by Adam Z. Robinson.
“There’s an old theory that the horror genre holds up a mirror to society. That each novel, short story, film and play reflects and reacts to what’s happening in the world at the precise moment in which it was created. The tales in Shivers are shot-through with the themes of isolationism, ubiquitous fear and selfishness. The play includes a story of a community cut off from the rest of the world in an attempt to preserve ‘the old ways’; a confession of a man who lives with daily, lonesome anxiety and a constant lurking terror of communication, a tale of an authority figure who obeys his reactionary gut rather than his rational brain. Perhaps the old theory is true”.
What better way is there to celebrate the thinning of the veil, than the embracement of a gloriously well written ghost story? Shivers encapsulates all that is great in this tradition. Adam Z. Robinson clearly loves the ghostly and gothic; he’s read so many of the great stories, and has created some more in the process. Go and see this show this season. Be brave; feed your dark side. You won’t regret it.
The tour will run up until February 2019 and conclude in Stowe. For more details, and to book tickets, go to http://www.thebookofdarknessandlight.com , where you can find a list of venues, add your own ghostly story if you have one, and lots more.