Behind the Random Denominator

Opening to a darkened stage with crackling lightning and booming thunder, Mart Sander’s solo show Behind the Random Denominator provides a wonderfully chilling hour of late night horror at this year’s festival, despite a few setbacks. Set in the study of a gothic mansion, we follow a writer trapped inside by the storm raging outside. The electricity out, his wife out of the country, and his drinking buddy delayed, he begins to receive calls from a mysterious stranger, who seems to know an awful lot of details about him.

A thoroughly atmospheric piece of horror that any fan of the genre should see this festival.

One of the key components of any successful piece of horror, particularly in theatre, is the kind of mood and atmosphere it creates, and this production gets it spot on. The stage is lit only by candlelight and the glow of our protagonists computer, while a window flashing with lightning projected onto the back of the stage punctuates the action and gets the odd scare in that has you jumping out of your seat. In addition, a wonderful soundscape heightens the tension and underscores the unsettling actions on stage as the phone conversations become increasingly bizarre and twisted. This limited lighting and accompanying soundscape really makes you feel as if you are right there with the writer, in a dark massive house as the shadows begin to creep closer in. Indeed, I found myself shivering with goosebumps at sections of the script, as the wonderful sound mixing of the strangers eerie static ridden voice claws at your ear’s like someone dragging their nails down a chalkboard.

The script itself is interesting enough, drawing you in with the mystery it presents and establishing the motivations and personalities of the characters well enough that you have a good sense of what is going on, even though the narrative is confined to a single room for the entire duration. The performance, however, falls into common traps of the genre. The mystery, while compelling initially, loses its lustre the more we learn and by 2/3rds of the way through many of the twists become more predictable. This somewhat diminishes the creepiness of the otherwise strange goings on, and makes the play less terrifying in its ending. Further, on occasion the script lapses into rather forced exposition of the “as you know” variety, which comes off as artificial when it should be natural.

The decision to have the play be an effective solo show, with Sander talking with recorded voices in phone conversations, is a nice idea that retains the sense of isolation required to up the horror whilst removing the need for monologuing. However, that said, at times the recordings jump over Sander’s line’s or creates awkward pauses as we wait for the next cue to kick in, which hampers the audience's immersion.

Despite these setbacks Sander’s has crafted a thoroughly atmospheric piece of horror that any fan of the genre should see this festival. 

Reviews by Joseph McAulay

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The Blurb

A nerve-racking psychological horror story, which uses minimalist means to create an oppressive atmosphere of unawareness, drawing the viewer deeper into the maze of fear with every new twist. Best Sound Design Award, UnitedSolo Theatre Festival, New York (2015). An alcoholic writer living on a remote peninsula and waiting for drinking buddies to come over on a stormy night begins receiving unnerving phone calls. Conversations with his wife, a friend and a curious stranger who calls himself ‘investigator’ gradually become more and more bizarre. Is the player being played — and if so, then by whom?