Review: Jakop Ahlbom Company – Horror - The Peacock

Performance: 25 & 26 January 2016
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Wednesday 27 January 2016

Jakop Ahlbom Company – 'Horror'. Photo: Sanne Peper

Performance reviewed: 25 January

The Swedish director Jakop Ahlbom’s contribution to this year’s London International Mime Festival is an evening of horror. Horror is a scream inducing, seat gripping, visual and physical feast. Think of a collection of the most petrifying horror movies you’ve ever seen, recall Edgar Allan Poe’s unsettling poems, chilling Gothic ghost stories, the macabre writing of horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft and you’ve got the flavour. Although because it’s mime, there’s no spoken word, which means that the show delivers its punch even more forcibly.

There’s nothing new or original in the subject matter: a young woman (Silke Hundertmark) returns to her deserted family house, which she discovers, along with some friends, is full of sinister memories. The misery of growing up there, her cold, sadistic parents and a rebellious older sister all dead and gone, return to haunt her and attempt to destroy her. Ahlbom’s homage to the horror film genre is effectively made through movement, a mixture of physical theatre, gymnastics and dance along with sound, stage design and lighting, making it an eery 3D experience. Film plays a major part as well, not just in inspiration but in the mise-en-scene, as TVs suddenly switch on and off, or sepia coloured live film footage reveals close- ups of the performers as they encounter another paranormal happening.

Like most good horror stories, it’s loaded with psychological subtext, so there’s the fear of the unknown, fear of sexuality and adolescence, of out-of-control bodies and dysfunctional family dynamics, all of which are conveyed through visual metaphors and flashbacks to significant events. For example we see the young woman giggling with her sister (Gwen Langenberg) at meal times, surveyed then punished by their physically rigid sinister parents; or exploring their emerging sexuality in the garden, dressing up in naughty knickers and make-up, only to be found by the menacing pair and then one sister having to watch as her sibling is tortured and beaten.

The stage is imaginatively split into three spaces and levels – two rooms and an outside garden which, thanks to Yuri Schreuders’ lighting effects gives the impression of a huge house with lots of nooks and crannies from which spooky people and feverish events can materialise. Walls become film screens or transparent glass, a cupboard a murder zone and a bath a bottomless pit. Action dramatically unfolds between these different physical spaces.

Ahlbom juxtaposes movement and dynamics to create tension and ‘otherness,’ familiar human behaviour with the unworldly. In an opening scene, the playful tactics of the woman and her friends as they explore the house are juxtaposed with the distorted physicality of her monstrous older sister, whose inverted postures, back bends, turned in toes, clawing hands and whining are horrendously unnerving. Then the deathly stillness of the parents contrasts with the drunken, expansive buffoonery of the lost newlyweds, who stumble on the house accidentally. Another great piece of mime occurs when the friend’s ‘possessed’ hand becomes frenzied and out of control and battles again the body to which it is still attached.

Pedestrian movement segues into physical theatre and circus acrobatics for the finale, in which our heroine has to fight for her life to escape from the disembowelled, gutted or fatally maimed zombies that surround her. She is thrown around, twisted, bent into every conceivable shape, but miraculously survives and kills off all her demons in a contest which is nail biting to behold. In spite of impressive, high velocity performances, some of the most lingering moments are simpler ones – like a frozen posture caught in a spot light.

It would not be proper horror without stunts and they too are pulled off with success: the moving photos on the walls, the severed hand crawling independently across the room, the levitating body of the dead sister, the sudden morphing of the human bride into a zombie, a sofa which swallows people and a bath which vomits out clones of a faceless assassin.

While the excessive blood and gore is my least favourite component of the show, it does provide a humorous edge. Along with some of the clichéd imagery it establishes a temporary respite from the chilling tension of the live movement and haunting performances of this unforgettable company.

*There are no further performances of Horror.
London International Mime Festival continues at venues across London until 6 February*

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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