The stage is set for what looks to be an unnerving tale. A single lamp suspended above a dark and dilapidated workshop, illuminating the presence of a tiny figure sat upright upon a crowded, wooden workbench. The moment you enter the darkened theatre you are at once thrown into the isolated disarray of Albert Grimlake’s workshop. Claustrophobic, sociophobic and cluttered with all kinds of weird and the wonderful objects, it presents a tiny world in which all kinds of obscure, psychological dramas play out.
The Shop of Little Horrors (not to be confused with the show about a carnivorous plant) is a dark and twisted tale about one man’s obsession with puppets. The play features a marvellously macabre collection of ventriloquist dummies which bare an unnerving resemblance to the people who have entered into Albert’s life over the course of the play. Dik Downey portrays an aged man intent on preserving the lives of others through his laborious craftsmanship, carrying off the transitions between acting and puppeteering with effortless effect. Various strange characters enter into the micro environment, ignorant of the fact that they will soon enough meet their fate at the hands of Albert and his manipulative mother. In fact with so many character transitions, it is difficult to believe that the show is orchestrated entirely by two actors alone.
Whilst the play carries a rather ominous undercurrent it is skilfully peppered with a wry sense of humour, providing delicious moments of bathos amongst passages of macabre, Eric, Albert’s keen new assistant played by Adam Blake, perpetuates the comedic side of the show, and when delivered right manages to unexpectedly send the viewer into moments of hysteria, as well as drawing on more subtle comedic nuances which play on the awkward self-consciousness of his character. The erratic splicing of both humour and horror has the effect of a split personality; thrown between the two, the viewer has no time to immerse themselves in one particular state of mind and is hit simply by the brashness and superficiality of both genres.
The overall production denotes a keen attention to aesthetics. The set is strewn with everything you might expect from a dilapidated workspace carrying with it a distinct timeless quality, whilst the costumes scream of falseness in keeping with that of the puppets themselves. Dramatic light is instrumental in accentuating atmospheric shifts, such as the instance when Albert and his mother successfully kill off the vising Health and Safety Inspector. The sound of a cello eerily carries through the silence accentuating chilling moments of horror.
Orchestrated around a fraught, manipulative relationship between Albert and his Mother (who is replica puppet which Albert himself is animating), the play carries a sinister undercurrent and raises the question who exactly is pupeteering who. What seems from the outset to be a play about an obsession with a man’s craft gradually becomes a more complex and psychologically woven piece of production, successfully combining the genre of horror with a wicked sense of humour.
PHOTO / Pickled Image