As Sean Holmes’ programming at the Lyric comes to an end, after he stepped down in October, it’s nice to see one of his great success stories back where it started nine years ago. Holmes directed the first run with its writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, it had two West End runs, a load of international tours and, last year, a major film starring Martin Freeman. But it’s also a really good bit of theatre.
Drawing on the old horror film anthologies that used to come out of Hammer and Amicus, the play weaves together three (possibly interconnected) stories, and adds a load of jump scares as well as some brilliantly conceived and executed stage illusions. After all Nyman, as well as having an acclaimed career as an actor – he can currently be seen in Trevor Nunn’s moving revival of Fiddler on the Roof – has also worked as a magician, notably helping to write and direct Derren Brown’s stage shows.
But where Nyman starred in the original run, here the role of ‘protagonist’ Professor Goodman, delivering a lecture on ‘parapsychology’, is taken by Simon Lipkin.
Lipkin isn’t bad, but there’s a niggling sense that he’s playing the part of a lecturer, rather than convincing us – his ostensibly captive audience – that he actually is one. It’s something about his over-the-top delivery, his gestures, and there are many moments where he’s sort of doing an Andy Nyman impression.
Occasionally the show as a whole elicits terror simply from loudness, but on the whole it’s a really tight, swift and, of course, terrifying show. The sound and lighting designs are among the best you’ll experience in a theatre, and they work together gorgeously to create this harrowing, 80-minute nightmare thrill.