BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

08/10/2015 - 08/10/2015

NZ Improv Festival 2015

Production Details

Beware! Monsters, ghosts, and ghouls take life before your very eyes when you bunk up at Camp Horror.

Channelling the spirits of classic horror anthologies, campfire stories, and your weirdest nightmares, TALES FROM CAMP HORROR will make you scream, laugh, and soil your undies.

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
Thursday 8 October
$18 Full / $14 Concession / $13 Groups 6+ /
Two show pass: $30 Full / $25 Concession 
Book online at bats.co.nz

Matt Powell
Brendon Bennetts
Andrew Todd
Vanessa Wells

Musician - Oliver Devlin
Lighting - Uther Dean

Theatre , Improv ,

1 hr

Complex, involving immediacy

Review by Lena Fransham 09th Oct 2015

BATS wasn’t always BATS, Andrew Todd informs us gravely. The cast (Andrew, Matt Powell, Brendon Bennetts and Vanessa Wells, of Christchurch’s Court Jesters) have arrayed themselves across the stage, to tell us why we are here. Their shadows loom hugely behind them.

In 1865, we are told, the land beneath us was home to the ‘Settlers’ Theatre’, which was one night destroyed in a terrible fire that killed everyone inside. The spirits of those killed still haunt the site on which BATS stands. Tonight, 150 years later, we must honour these spirits with offerings of horror stories, and the pressure’s on, because if the spirits are not appeased, woe betide us all.

The audience must aid these brave tale tellers to produce a suitable offering. We are called upon to share fears, memories, and moral wisdom to inspire the tales.

Firstly we are asked: who are we afraid of? Words like werewolf and vampire get tossed around, but also Santa and the tooth fairy. And so a tale, narrated by Brendon, is played out in which a schoolgirl (Vanessa) breaks a tooth and bleeds everywhere just when she is trying to impress a cool guy (Matt).

However the cool guy, who is really the Tooth Fairy, is irresistibly drawn to her. “I find you fascinating,” he tells her creepily, in response to her gummy, lisping attempt to ask him why he’s not repelled by her mouth full of blood and smashed tooth.

The tension mounts with the sudden entry of another suitor, Santa (Andrew), who after some posing and hair flipping, promptly faces off with the Tooth Fairy, his ancient enemy. The plot twists, on-the-hop revisions and Twilight allusions are startling and hilarious. Uther Dean’s lighting responds nimbly to the action and is probably the scariest part of the story.

At the tale’s conclusion the cast agrees that it was sexy as hell, but just not scary enough. After consulting the audience for a wise adage on which to spin a spooky yarn, Andrew assumes the role of narrator. The adage is: “Treat others as you would have them treat you.”

A family scene is established, the actors complying moment-to-moment with Andrew’s whimsical dictation, which makes for some comical u-turns in the action. The Rockwellian image of this family is laden with anxiety until cracks begin to show in their happiness.

The request of the son (Matt) to visit Disneyworld for his birthday results in the collapse of the picture book idyll as it turns out that his mother (Vanessa) will do anything to prevent him from leaving the town. And his father (Brendon) seems to turn into a robot overnight.

Oli Devlin’s intuitive keyboard is remarkable in these scenes. Plot consistency and originality falter, and the relevance to the initial adage seems tenuous to me, but in between the laughs there’s a palpable eeriness, so I expect the spirits are mollified somewhat.

Next we are onto childhood fears. An audience member cites marshmallows – particularly their powdery texture – as the source of a fear that still bothers her. Vanessa’s eyes light up at this, and she launches into a sinister monologue revealing the predatory agenda of marshmallows everywhere.

“We want to take over the world,” she menaces, as the hapless Brendon falls prey to marshmallow invasion of his vital organs. There’s something that works about the idea and she mines it well, but its horror/comic value has a brief lifespan.

Asking the audience for material to do with family professions, Matt lights on the generational nature of dairy farming as a frame for the final tale. Vanessa’s character, Madeleine, is born to a life of milking on her grandfather’s farm. She is lame and drags her foot when she walks, and while she milks Daisy and Maisy, she dreams of another life.

But her fabulously awful father (Brendon) has plans for her: he cruelly sends her to the Black Shed! Grim lighting and a grimmer keyboard dirge effectively mark the horror of her fate. Poor lame Madeleine vanishes offstage with a scream.

When a young property developer (Andrew) comes to the farm thirty years later, he too is sent to the Black Shed, where he becomes possessed by the ghost of Madeleine. What follows is a brilliant, spontaneous ventriloquist act between Vanessa and Andrew that culminates in the demise of the awful dad in his milking shed.

Uther and Oli are indispensable in adding the requisite tones of horror to what is mostly a big crack-up. We’re falling about laughing for much of the hour. Each story reveals itself in the exchange between the passages of spoken narrative and the actors’ improvised elaborations.

It’s not a tidy medium and the entertainment value fluctuates, but what I love is the way they play with the visibility of the scaffolding in the improv process, with complex, involving immediacy. 


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