Danse Macabre Productions consists of a trio of graduates of the University of York with a weakness for the horror genre. Their latest offering, Fear Itself, begins innocuously enough as Dr Amelia Greenwood (Natasha Dawson) takes to the stage to deliver a motivational self-help talk on the nature of fear. The talk is loosely based on Sir Francis Bacon’s famous line 'Nothing is terrible except fear itself' (subsequently remixed/plagiarised by Franklin D Roosevelt several hundred years later). It’s all in our imagination, right? Wrong. For a start there is Dan, Amelia’s now ex-husband, the lacklustre and inept lighting/sound technician for the show who still dogs Amelia due to an unfortunate contractual obligation. And then there is the past…
I’m glad I’m not walking home alone tonight.
The show starts out as an amusingly reflexive piece of badinage in which Amelia shares how she originally fell for Dan. She then demonstrates the extent to which fear is mind-made with the help of a willing member of the audience. But reminiscence soon becomes revelation, the show changes direction and rapidly spirals into something altogether more sinister, more unpleasant, and downright scary by way of urban myth memes in the vein of Cropsey. This is riveting storytelling, which is particularly successful due to the decision to rely entirely on performance and the considerable strength of the material, penned by Joseph Willis. Don’t expect gothic lighting, or special effects. Just a really, really creepy story.
And just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, just when you think you have sorted fact from fantasy, the show goes down another rabbit hole. Without revealing spoilers I cannot say more than that the ending is bound to genuinely surprise and unnerve the spectator, both narratively and in terms of theatrical convention. As we were leaving the venue, one audience member tremulously murmured, 'I’m glad I’m not walking home alone tonight.' Yes, me too.