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Thursday, 1 November 2012

THE HALLOWE'EN SESSIONS ~ Kim Newman's portmanteau stage play, including stories from the macabre minds of Anne Billson, Stephen Volk and Sean Hogan, makes October the 31st proper scary again! A partly fictional review of a real night of frights..

Some plot spoilers may follow ~ if you have a ticket to this play, see it first before reading!

HE HALLOWE'EN SESSIONS/ Leicester Square Theatre/ October 31st 2012

October 2nd/ 2012/ 3.52pm
From: Brian White To: many

Dear all, in case you've forgotten, it's Big Mike's BIRTHDAY!!!! October 31st (yeah - the big fat witch strikes again!).. This year, I propose we make things EXTRA SCARY!!! There's a play on in London - @ Leicester Square Theatre, called The Hallowe'en Sessions/ 8.30pm. Tickets go on sale next week. It's written by Kim Newman - a fantasy and horror writer and film critic (check Empire's Video Dungeon column!!) with 5 stories from other writers (like Stephen Volk, the guy who wrote GHOSTWATCH - whooo!!!).. I'm writing a review of this for SCREAMERS MAGAZINE on the night, so I'm going to suggest to Mike that we take him there for his birthday. Then Club Azaria after for booze up! Now here's the plan. I don't want to just scare him a bit - i want to give him THE FRIGHT OF HIS LIFE!! The morning the tickets go on sale, I want as many of us as possible to queue up at the theatre before the tickets go online, and buy every single ticket going (get your mates or family to go along) just make sure they are ALL people that Mike doesn't know (except for us - the big 5) and on the night, nobody act as if you know each other - he has to think the theatre is full of strangers! There's a guest list of 70 max so it shouldn't be a problem. At the end of the play, get your mates to act like zombies and start groaning and all start chanting Mike's name and give him the freakin' shock of his life!!!! Let me know what you think :))

~ Brian

October 31st/ 2012/ 2.23pm
From: Mike Pipes To: Brian White

Brian, looking forward to tonight man. See you at the pub opposite the Prince Charles cinema for drinks before the Halloween sesh starts. Did you see preview in Time Out? Sounds cool. There's a bar in the theatre too, just checked (hey - it's my birthday, I can drink myself to death if I want to!!). Hope you don't get too scared tonight buddy - the witches are waiting for you (I mean the Australian barmaid - remember last year?? She's still waiting for you pal!!!!) See you inside pub 7ish or theatre bar @ 8.


October 31st/ 2012/ 8.25pm
From: Mike Pipes To: Tess Kineski

Tess, met up with the boys at Hallowe'en Sessions. They had bar staff give me birthday cake. Holding nice big knife now as I cut it up (cake bigger than my belly - yeah even!) - saving you and the kids some!! Bar right next to seats. Will behave I promise!!! Lights going off in bar, play about to start, strange zombie nurse or summit staring me out, better rush - cutting cake as quickly as I can:)) See you later - will wake you up even if asleep for goodnight (ha!) kiss (ha!ha!) Mike xxxx

October 31st/ 2012/ 10.15pm
From: Brian White To: Diane Zurrell_Editor

Hey Diane, writing review as I watch Hallowe'en Sessions, tapping away in the dark (as ever - always doing strange things in lap after dark!!) Play great - review below (also attached to file). I'm mostly sober so should be right words in right order! On last story of the play now; creepy one - two people on a bed in front of me, look like they're about to get jiggy - things looking up! If review ok, let me know. It's Big Mike's birthday (remember - you met last year at office party, think he fancied you - watch out!), We've got a surprise of the century for him when play finishes. Shock of his fucking life! Let you know what happens. No pics - sorry, not allowed - but got some of theatre you could use. Then off to Club Azaria in Soho - COME ALONG IF YOU CAN!!

Review Follows... (hope word count ok, let me know if not!)
PS: here is pic of the entrance to the basement theatre  - wooo!!!


The Hallowe'en Sessions follows the familiar path of those old portmanteau horror films of the 70's, from studios such as Amicus, often starring Peter Cushing or even Jon Pertwee with stories that went from grisly blood-drenchings of innocent children at a birthday party with gallons of watered-down ketchup to camp vamps in drag on a night out.

The idea was born from the mind of author (Anno Dracula) and film critic  Kim Newman, director Sean Hogan (The Devil's Business) and producer Josh Saco, written to reflect their love of classic horror of the kind that used to play late at night on the BBC along with Hammer and Universal monster seasons. I remember as a boy myself, staying up late to see Lon Chaney Jr battle his inner werewolf in The Wolfman followed by a monster mash-up in the House of Dracula, while my parents were asleep - me creeping up the stairs and switching on the TV, lights off, sound turned down low..

As much as a homage as The Hallowe'en Sessions is to classic horror short storytelling in the movies, it's also - being from the occasionally obsessive pen of Kim Newman - a love letter to real Hallowe'en (or All Hallows' Eve); the night before All Saints' Day (or All Hallows). November 1st may have been an especially religious occasion, but the night before was quite free of goodness; a night in limbo. A moment in which the creatures of the night - and pure evil - could freely roam.

The setting for Kim Newman's framing story that links the bloody tales of five wide-eyed, dressing-gowned patients meeting in the creepy Day Room of an unethical asylum for the criminally insane (rather like Colditz we are told; this is the kind of place where only the people who have escaped from other prisons get to go to as a final hurrah of now impossible escape) isn't an especially new one (even the current series of the US TV hit - American Horror Story, uses this setting as a framing device),
although as a homage to old-school horror; it's ideal.

The emphasis on this being the night in which the real nature of 
Hallowe'en makes a (valid for some) claim for being an ongoing purveyor of the purest and most ancient, one night stand of evil (not just a night of silly masks and chocolate pumpkins in a bag) -helps make the cold, claustrophobic and (unusually for gothic horror) bright setting an especially uneasy and unsettling one.

The emphasis here on how nasty Hallowe'en can be reminds of one of the few times in film that such a notion was ever powerfully spun as a frightening yarn - in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). This still powerful, resolute oddity of a film saw Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale's authentically pagan and ancient belief-obsessed script (including chunks of Stonehenge being wired to modern day scientific equipment) dominating what was essentially a sequel in a franchise that usually went for good old-fashioned 'stalk and slash' instead going here for ancient darkness and some real nasty evil stuff where children are targeted and made victims for wanting to have fun at Halloween. Kneale's script was rewritten but the stamp of his research and fresh ideas remained.

What Kim Newman does, in his witty, horror genre-loving script packed with film references and scattershot mythology, is develop a framing device that, by the end of the play turns out to be perhaps the best story of all. The final few moments of The Hallowe'en Sessions are unexpected and shocking and the audience are suitably scared and even just a little bit concerned for their own safety.

Newman, in a very effective moment, includes the observation that homes are full of weapons for women to torment errant husbands with, and implements that men can grasp as a penis substitute - look how long my poker is baby! It's a clever and neat riff on the nature of what real horror is and how it gets here. Graciously, Newman's script allows a final payoff for the writers of the other stories, to be fully manifested. The closing moments of this play could - should - be made into a movie. What happens at the end is an idea that cinema needs to steal, with Kim's permission - as it's too good an idea to rest with one week at Hallowe'en.

I remember, as a boy, one of my favourite films being Superman 2. I didn't really like Superman himself all that much, but I liked the bad girl in this movie - Sarah Douglas dressed all in black with a punk-goth hairdo and deep black eyeliner as the evil Ursa. Douglas also appeared in my other favourite thing of the 80's - V: The Final Battle. Most recently, I saw Sarah in a rare screening of movie that has gone on to become a favourite - 1977's The Brute, that explores the issues of domestic abuse in a shocking, potent (at times wild and abandoned, creeping and sinister - and certainly blatantly horror movie-ish) but also rather sensible and serious way. It's a movie that deserves a wider audience - and is, in its own way, an important film, (exploring sometimes unmentionable issues with a rare honesty) with Sarah Douglas's starring role as Diane, alongside Julian Glover's terrifying Teddy - a masterclass in suburban fear and fightback.

There's a line in the Hallowe'en Sessions where Sarah Douglas, as Dr Myra Lark, reminisces about being once beautiful and seductive;
a perhaps playful riff on how fans of this actress may remember her. It's how I remember her - the character of Ursa in Superman 2, made me fall in love with beautiful bad girls in black eyeliner and tight figure-hugging outfits with split sleeves, for the rest of my life! Sarah Douglas, I can confirm, today - is still seductive and attractive and seriously evil to the rotten core.

Dr Myra Lark isn't the most caring of psychiatrists in the world. "You're all fucked in the head" is her brutally honest (but probably accurate) medical evaluation of her dumbfounded patients. The good doctor also has a faithful assistant - Nurse Wretched, played (in a non-speaking role but seriously effective when turning the flesh flour-white in a wonderfully pulse-pounding and very loud shock moment towards the end that's most unexpected!) by the enigmatic, glaring and very wandering-handed, Grace Ker. Nurse Wretched also gets to scare us when the play isn't even on - this has to be a first in the theatre; it's a first for me anyway!

As the good Dr Lark talks to each patient in turn about the reasons they are in the institution undergoing her unique brand of therapy, each one of these pitiful characters has a tale to tell that may shock, scare and even amuse you. But you wouldn't walk down a dark alleyway with any of this lot. You probably shouldn't even sit in a theatre with them.

All the stories work well, but there are standouts. Stephen Volk kicks things off with a monologue, delivered by a craggy and shellshocked Billy (The Devil's Business) Clarke, about the loss of a child, the birth of another and an obsession with a wallpaper in the deceased child's room that features a cartoon character with 'Three Fingers, One Thumb' (the title of this story), which is the easiest way and the best number of digits for animators to draw a cartoon character with. As Volk's story progresses, it's clear that there is danger ahead for the second child as well, and that sometimes, the world of fiction merges with real life, in horrible ways. 

Billy Clarke as David Rudge eats up the script and spits it back out at us with real poignancy and venom (at times, after one harrowing cry for help, there is a pause of a minute or so - deafening silence never sounded so awful). This story is from a master of the craft of eerie writing but Volk, ever since the transmission of the BBC's most worst (but also clearly best) Halloween moment ever, 20 years ago tonight, of Ghostwatch and even in his most recent film outing in The Awakening has always focused on the balance between life and death (of the link between the known and the unknowable) and included the idea of childhood innocence often corrupted or ruined by the bad things adults sometimes do. Clarke's character, of a grieving dad and the bad things that happen to good kids, thanks to grown-up frailties, has possible links to a character in Ghostwatch, should you wish to make that connection. I suspect, Stephen Volk himself, may not even be aware of his subconscious working away here, and deny this immediately - but the spirit of Ghostwatch's 'Pipes' has a shadow looming over this wonderfully virile and soul-destroying monologue at the start of this play.

Next up is Paul McAuley's 'Professor Babu' - the Jon Pertwee-esque 'camp vampire'-like story of the night, mostly played for laughs. Young London trendy Tom Rose played by Joshua Mayes-Cooper (soon to be spotted in the horror movie 'Outpost 11') works on a freebie listings magazine (such types are mutilated alive in this deliciously mocking script) and makes a deal with a veritable Devil, after finding a strange advert offering assistance with any kind of problems that need sorting - just call! The mysterious 'Mr Babu' is the man in charge of the curses-for-hire, who doesn't ever do anything for free.

Mayes-Cooper (a relative newcomer to acting) plays his role with confidence and - just about - times all his gags perfectly in a role that could have been hard to make work alongside the more traditional horror characterisations around him. Instead, his portrayal of a wide-eyed showoff with flaming ginger hair and foldaway glasses, and an uncertain fate, is perfect and chilling. There also a horror prop on stage at last for this story (thanks to special effects guy Dan Martin) - it's a funny kind of horror exhibit though, played again for laughs and goes alongside some rather neat sound effects of something horrific being done to someone with a sharp blade; I won't say to whom!

'The Night-Born Sisters' by Maura McHugh follows, and has a standout role from young actress Gina Abolins as Vivien Fox. The 'plainest' of two sisters (although clearly not - she has the look of Anna Friel in Brookside, who some of us of a certain age may remember) yet ended up with the more show-offy name of 'Vivien' while her beautiful sister ended up with 'Jane' - or 'Unplain Jane' as she became known. One of these sisters is bad, and one boyfriend is getting in the way. The question being - who is the baddest sister of them all?

Maura's script is spot-on with a mix of creeping unease, psychotic madness, and handbags-full regret. There are monsters in this story too - the 'Furies'; creepy loomy things you may well have to hug someone you love nearby to you (Note to Ed: Diane - I didn't have to hug Big Mike at this point, don't worry!!) when they arrive, swaying in the gloom, eyes glowing - oh my god yes; this is what horror and Hallowe'en is all about ! Whether deliberate or not, 'The Night-Born Sisters' reminds of the real life awful case of the murder of Meredith Kutcher by Amanda Knox, and whether that's because the actress in the lead role, Gina Abolins, has the same look about her, or whether the script pushes the plot in that direction, I'm not sure. It's a connection that works though.

There's some fantastic set design in this play. The sets are reused and the cast move tables and chairs around in the dark, like old-fashioned theatre should be like. They also play multiple roles, and convince as different characters to the point where there is no uncomfortable double-up visible; the pumpkin-spotted pantyline doesn't show - it's seamless. One of the best set designs is on show for the next story; (horror novelist - Stiff Lips and The Ex) Anne Billson's crowd-pleasing sexually suggestive and psychotically-coerced masterclass in one room horror; 'Case Study: Richard Gill'. Taking place around a kitchen table: a bottle of wine; a baby listening device, a plate of food, and most notably - a big, lovingly-wrapped parcel, all these items take on identities of their own.

The fun starts when a wideboy businessman comes home to have his dinner cooked for him by the home help and nanny; Marika (played with barely-disguised frustration and rage by the contrastingly sweet-looking Holly Lucas). Daniel Brocklebank is just superb as Richard Gill, a man who now regrets his affair with a women whose accent he can't place and whose home country he couldn't care less about.

Anne Billson clearly delights in mocking the male population of serial cheaters throughout her patient's painful descent into certain madness and loves to mock a man's often weedy excuses for their wrong deeds - there could well be terrible repercussions for all the family when the girl he bedded; Marika, starts acting a bit odd and starts cooking a meal that clearly may not be all it seems or handing out gifts that one dare not open. Of course, it's the first rule of horror that such parcels do eventually get opened. I don't dare give any more away, but rest assured - I didn't guess the twist in this story's swishing, fork-barbed, tale. A slow-rolling freakout of a journey towards an unexpected and awful denouement - Amicus Films should be spinning wildly in their grave with joy!

Finally, (well - almost finally) there's Sean Hogan's barnstorming 'Marry in May, Rue the Day' that ends the play on a suitably traditional and welcome slice of homaging, hemorrhaging horror (a respectful bow of the head to those cult ceremonies so beloved of the Hammer films and the old dark house genre - hell, even a touch of Rocky Horror rears its bodice in this one). Holly Lucas as Anna Cairns heads to an isolated home in the country to meet the parents of Mark (Joshua Mayes-Cooper who was so loud and dickheady in 'Professor Babu' now calm and reflective - the perfect leading man I'd say!). Trouble is the parents are very weird indeed (Sarah Douglas stepping out of her doctor's outfit here and being given a full chance to shine in one of the stories as mad 'mum' Caitlin Whitely alongside the rest of the flipped-up family: Billy Clarke as Milton Whiteley and Daniel Brocklebank as the not-at-all-in-the-closet sly brother - Jacob Whiteley).

It's a creepy ensemble piece all round and has a setpiece scene at the dining table where young Mark stuffs bread into his mouth like a wild animal after telling his family he is starving (the only food presented by the parents is a Last Supperish offering of bread and wine) while Milton (once a vicar, once removed) prays on the floor. There's something nasty living in the house with this family and it wants something; it's about to get what it wants. The set design is astounding here, especially a moment set in a bed lit by lantern; white sheets stained with bluish light and a sense of evil floods through into the audience - then it comes.

The Hallowe'en Sessions are rounded off by Kim Newman's expose of Dr Myra Lark's ulterior motives and a final shock moment that demands a sequel - same place, same time, same writers; next year?

It was a horrible night - thankfully - and the audience remain suitably traumatised as I write and the final bows are taken. The stories have been suitably scary, sometimes poignant, always horrific and Kim Newman, the man on the train in the wide-brimmed hat and ankle-length raincoat, framing a selection of some grisly tales to a carriage fill of ashen-faced passengers with their own dreadful secrets to hide on this ride into the depths of Hell, has exposed himself as something of a master of the craft of macabre theatre tonight.

Brought to the stage by Cigarette Burns Cinema, and hosted by the warm evil innards of The Leicester Square Theatre, the play 'The Hallowe'en Sessions' presents the audience with a nostalgic selection box of frightening delights - pick your candy carefully as t
his is real Hallowe'en, not that pretend stuff made of cheap chocolate and wrapped in eyeball-patterned silver foil As Dr Lark tells us when one patient mentions they feel as if they are in the film 'The Wicker Man' - 'The Wicker Man' is only scary in Spring when the seeds are sown, and by October, the harvest is over. Horror, of the kind that falls tonight - on October 31st, is full of all kinds of other evils; just you wait and see! Because, unlike those horror anthologies of old (those deliriously eccentric Amicus portmanteaus that some of us of a certain age used to stay up late for and watch with all the lights off and the sound turned low) - in The Hallowe'en Sessions none of the cast wake up from a bad dream or discover they are dead and riding a midnight train to Hell. Their stories, fears and the bad things they've done live on in the real world and that's also, most worrying of all, the world we live in - Happy Hallowe'en!


Hope all ok - let me know if not, all the best 

~ Brian

October 31st/ 2012/ 10.24pm
From: Brian White To: many

Ok guys, show over, get ready to freak Big Mike out!!! He's gone to the left of the room to cut the rest of the birthday cake at the bar. Start acting weird, look at him like he's dead man walking, and start whispering his name. All of you - yeehaaa!!! Ok,,, GO!!! (and yeah, pray the theatre staff don't kill us for this one!!!)
~ Brian xxx

October 31st/ 2012/ 11.22pm
From: Tess Kineski To: Mike Pipes

Mike, where are you??? Keep trying to call, no answer. Worried. Phone me - PLEASE!! xx

October 31st/ 2012/ 11.38pm
From: Brian White To: Diane Zurrell_Editor

Diane, something really badz happened. Can you call Jess and the kids? There's no answer..think they must be out trick or treating. Police taking me to station at Covent Garden. Mike freaked out, went ape, knife he was holding. Blood everywhere. Fucking disaster..think some of the cast ended up in the middle of it all. I'm in really deep shit here. Think lots dead. Mike ran out fire exit before we could get to him,, he's got knife still. Not my fault. NOT MY FAULT!! Please find Jess and the kids, Mike on way out said he would .. PLEASE PLEASE FIND THEM - FIND THEM QUICK.

October 31st/ 2012/ 11.39pm
From: Mike Pipes To: Brian White

Happy Hallowe'en, BRIAN!

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer/ Hallowe'en 2012

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