Horror is one of the most difficult genres to pull off in theatre. Whereas horror books are limited only by the imagination, and films have special effects and atmospheric editing, theatre has to find its own voice; usually through a mix of practical effects, creepy visuals, music and the live actors’ performances. Unfortunately Violet Shock’s production of Wychwood, recounting the tales of Wychwood Insane Asylum, not only fails at being a genuinely scary experience but falls short of even being an interesting production.

Horror stories are supposed to leave you with images that haunt you; I got bored trying to remember what happened in this production literally minutes after it ended.

Violet Shock’s production, hosting a large cast and orchestra, attempts to merge musical with horror to disastrous affect; not only are most of the songs completely useless as exposition but they also fail to establish any kind of sinister tone. Most of the songs, bar one, would not go amiss in a Disney film. Being too upbeat and too infatuated with romantic emotions rather than anything actually related to horror, they completely kill the immersion into what is supposed to be a scary or creepy experience. And as they rarely produce any plot details of note, you’re left waiting for each song to just end. The orchestra itself is completely unnoticeable; without any “horror” flourishes of any kind, the use of live instruments comes across as redundant.

The play begins with a montage of images scarier than anything that actually appears in the play itself, then a loud noise kicks the action off, with two storytellers appearing to begin their tales of the insane. From here we discover that the stories are at best, nothing to scream about, and at worst, painfully cliche. There’s paying homage and then there’s going-through-the-motions, resulting in an uninspired and unimaginative narrative. The second story is the worst for this, spending almost half of the play’s hour run-time recounting an uninteresting melodrama only to end it with lacklustre and predictable jump-scares. And this play loves its jump-scares. Or at least, its loud noises. If you don’t know how to make a scene scary, just use a stock scream sound effect, three times. That’ll spook ‘em. That scream sound effect becomes irritating very quickly. Frustratingly, the best story of the four told is also the shortest, actually using the music effectively, and managing to build up dramatic suspense. But although its ending is satisfying, the execution is lacking and awkward (though this is better than the other story’s endings, which are just bad).

The script is without personality, only once getting a laugh out of the audience. The performances, much like the script, also lack personality, with only one actor putting noticeable effort in. There’s no interesting or unsettling imagery, the costumes are drab, the set is mundane, the stage itself is poorly used, with large amounts of space just left empty with scenes happening to the side. There’s next to no blood or blood-effects, and only one moment is comically bad. Thus the play, failing either to scare or amuse, becomes painful to sit through.

When the play ended, there was silence, then finally an awkward clap began. There just didn’t seem to be much understanding of horror-storytelling and what makes horror and tension work. A disappointing effort for a group that has apparently been doing this for five years. Don’t bother with Wychwood. Horror stories are supposed to leave you with images that haunt you; I got bored trying to remember what happened in this production literally minutes after it ended.

Reviews by Euan Brook

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The Blurb

You stand, huddled in a dank corridor wondering what it is you've actually come to see. The screams and scratching you have been hearing are getting closer now and you're about to turn and flee when the doors ahead of you burst open. A tall, gaunt figure approaches and urges you to follow, but warns that you do so at your own risk... Do you dare enter Wychwood House, the asylum that supposedly closed its doors in 1916? Horror, melodrama, illusion and song combine in this innovative retelling of classic Edwardian ghost stories. Not for the faint-hearted.