Host at The Space Online
Horror on stage is something of a rarity, despite an obvious hunger for the genre, as seen with the long-running success of The Woman in Black and more recently Ghost Stories. Danse Macabre Productions are working to change that and earn the genre its rightful place in theatre. The company’s second Zoom offering during the pandemic, Host combines theatrical intimacy with the capabilities of the modern technology we’ve all grown accustomed to of late. The result is a slow-burn horror, as intelligent as it is chilling.
Fay (Annemarie Anang) is an online English teacher. Her new student Julia (Gracie Peters) is charming and chatty, but apparently not permitted to leave the house. Concerned for her welfare, Fay risks everything to try and help. When something sinister emerges, she questions whether she’s gone too far.
The play opens with inevitable technical issues, the all too familiar frozen screen and audio delays leading to the characters talking over one another. This is wonderfully relatable, with writer Sam Essame’s richly naturalistic dialogue setting up Fay and Julia, while economically establishing the world of the play. We are straight in the action with no expositional build-up, and the pace is largely sustained throughout.
Anang and Peters are instantly engaging and believable, both making effective use of body language and facial expression. The Zoom format allows the audience to feel a part of the action in a way that is perhaps even more intimate than theatre or film. While an online play will never compare to the real thing, this has been specifically written for its chosen platform. The fact that it is live adds a nice sense of urgency to proceedings.
Brief musical transitions might be jarring to some, breaking the intensity of the world we are drawn into; others will no doubt enjoy the injection of theatrical tension. Ultimately it is the writing and performances that carry the production, with Daniel Robinson and Rebecca McKinnis providing stellar support under the direction of Lisa Millar. In the absence of special effects and with little pause, the audience is carried along by a foreboding current that progresses to a chilling climax.
Numerous questions and interesting, topical themes arise and permeate throughout the 60-minute performance: the danger of technology that enables us to feel closer to others while placing barriers between us; the fact that platforms we use to communicate often allow for miscommunication. Essame explores loneliness, regret and redemption in a piece that is laced with literary language and brimming with symbolism.
There are certainly a few frights towards the end, but Host doesn’t rely on short shocks and easy scares. This is the type of thought-provoking horror that envelopes its watcher and doesn’t let go, lingering long after the experience.
Host is at The Space from 28th October until 30th October 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.