Horror theatre is among the hardest genres to get right. It’s so much easier to scare people via the easily edited, pre-constructed medium of film. But the success of shows like The Woman in Black, which has been running in the West End for years, despite having very little set, only two actors (and nowadays, far too many school children in the audience), proves that it can be done.
Unsurprisingly, The Woman in Black‘s success lies not in excessive gore or lavish sets but in careful execution of story, character, and most importantly, staging. This isn’t a revelation, but it’s worth a reminder when watching unsuccessful attempts at horror; the result of which often feels like an uncomfortable gore porno that leaves little impact but a feeling of harassment.
Luckily, Behind the Random Denominator avoids all these traps, delivering an intimate, character-driven show, which is frightening as a result of building tension, moody atmosphere and chilling plot points.
If you’re at the Fringe and want to see this, I suggest reading no further and purchasing your tickets at once. I won’t write any major spoilers in this review, but it’s impossible to discuss the production without giving a sense of story and format, so you’ve been warned!
Like The Woman in Black, Behind the Random Denominator makes use of little resources, including one actor and a tiny set. Upon entering the theatre, this set up is immediately effective, creating an atmosphere of creeping uncertainty that sent me into a giddy, excited state, as I realized this horror production might actually be handled well. The play builds on this pre-established ambience with a rising tension revolving around the slow revelations of the central character, a wealthy writer, as he makes various phone calls to his wife, friend and a mysterious stranger.
The writer, played by Mart Sander (also the writer of the piece), is a humorous, bitter, booze-glugging cynic. Sander plays him with ease and charisma, convincing us as to the ‘devil-may-care’ nature of a man who sits alone in the dark and answers anonymous phone calls. Being of the ‘don’t give a shit’ school of writer, our protagonist indulges in the game, until it becomes apparent that the caller knows too much about him, and things get scary. It’s not a plot without problems, and the play’s logic doesn’t entirely add up, though it is plausible enough that you won’t question it at the time.
Ultimately, the play embraces the power of a good old-fashioned, spooky story to the fullest capacity. And when the occasional scare comes, it’s pretty good, not for a hardened horror fan, but for an average spook enthusiast.
The takeaways from this are: story and character come first, fewer resources can actually help a production, don’t answer unknown numbers on stormy nights, and if you do, don’t be surprised when they’re creepers.
Behind The Random Denominator is on at Paradise in the Vault until August 13.