Friday Night at the Horror Fest

Oct 29 2023 | By More

I SEE RED: ★★☆☆☆     Over ambitious

Sycamore Grove: ★★★★☆     Satisfying

The Shadow in the Dark: ★★★☆☆     Spooky

The Banshee Labyrinth: Thurs 26 – Sun 29 Oct 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Modern day Halloween is a time to dress up and, for Edinburgh’s grassroots theatre companies, there is a real challenge to provide something new and unusual for the Edinburgh Horror Festival.

The Horror Festival, running from 26 to 31 October, obviously doesn’t have the same impact as the Edinburgh Fringe, but it does have that low-fi buzz and sense of experimentation which is all too often absent from the August event.

Spending a Friday evening in the main venue, the Banshee Labyrinth, where a handful of theatre shows are running for four nights, Thurs 26 – Sun 29, is a real fillip for the theatre soul.

Silvestre Correia in I SEE RED. Pic: Thom Dibdin

Down in the Chamber Room, the evening kicks off with experimental theatre/film crossover, I SEE RED, continues with new four-handed drama Sycamore Grove and finishes with an homage to the dark side of celebrated children’s author E Nesbit: The Shadows in the Dark.

I SEE RED, finds performer, director and adaptor Silvestre Correia standing alone on stage in the near dark. Behind him a large video screen is disrupted at sporadic intervals by a screen-filling close-up of a drooling and masticating mouth.

The tiny torch Correia shines into his constantly open and amply red-lipsticked mouth is enough to reveal he is wearing a rather snazzy red-sequinned jacket. Jose Valente’s rather splendid violin-heavy soundtrack howls around the small room.

All very surreal and you wonder whether you are in for 40 minutes of durational theatre. Fortunately, Correia does have a script, which seems to be cut-up elements of something else, delivered in a heavily accented monotone in such a way as to subtract as much meaning as possible from the words.

overcooked porridge

A long while later George Murphy’s film – from which those words were extracted – takes over the screen. Carolina Dominguiez as Wendy stares into a looking glass where her reflection smears on red lipstick and ponders on the nature of nightmares. Bárbara Bruno as Mother, spews what appears to be overcooked porridge.

The effect, numbing that it is, is distancing and not altogether pleasant. As a piece of theatre it speaks mostly of the nature of internalised fragmentation of the psyche with maybe a hint of gender dysphoria. But as a piece of horror, it lacks the sort of narrative drive that might provide an edge.

Nicholas Alban, Rebecca Wilkie, Conor O’Dwyer and Cara Watson in Sycamore Drive. Pic: Liam Rees.

There is no problem with the narrative of Sycamore Grove, written by Daniel Williams and directed by Liam Rees. Quite the most satisfying piece of the evening, it features Conor O’Dwyer and Cara Watson as happy but underachieving couple Ben and Hannah, who delve into matters macabre after a visit to Hannah’s bestie from school, Charlotte (Rebecca Wilkie) and her husband Colin (Nicholas Alban)

Rees’s direction on this tiny stage is exemplary, with Williams script just sparse enough to reveal what is going on. An unconventional but brilliantly blocked opening scene has all four stand in a line, using only their dialogue to immediately place you in the Charlotte and Colin’s perfect house, where they reveal the secret to their success in a room full of signs and numbers.

The script is tight and reveals just enough to throw you one way and then another as you guess to how this might fall out. The relationship between Wilkie’s manipulative Charlotte and Alban’s supercilious Colin is excellently achieved, with increasingly disturbing hints at to where the real power lies.


But they are the backdrop to the real action, as Ben becomes more and more embroiled in his numerology and unable to let go of his use of signs. O’Dwyer, is particularly intriguing to watch as he brings out a real undercurrent of addiction to Ben. Watson is equally strong as the non-believers Hannah, coping with his dependency.

The only slightly jarring note is the overly repetitious nature of some of their dialogue. But on the whole this is a brilliant piece that uses suggestion to the maximum, with a touch of sound and a burst of flame, to tell a story that will echo long in the mind after the actors have disappeared from the stage.

Rebecca Hale as Edith Nesbit in The Shadow in the Dark. Pic: Thom Dibdin.

Easily the most intriguing piece of the evening is The Shadow in the Dark, which contains two stories by E. Nesbit: The Shadow, performed by Skye Morrison and adapted and directed by Oliver Giggins; and In the Dark, performed by Annie Cook and adapted and directed by Ash Pryce.

It is all framed by Rebecca Hale, as Edith Nesbit, who sets out to record her memories of childhood on a wax cylinder – recalling her first fears of the dark and remembering a childhood trip to Bordeaux where she was excited to go into the vaults beneath the cathedral to see the mummies there. Not wrapped in cloth as she expected, however, but skeletal remains clothed in dessicated skin.

Hale is a slightly too diffident Nesbitt, unfortunately. Not quite happy with her material and too often searching for what is to come. But when she does get into her flow – in the section about the mummies particularly – she shows just how good it could all be.

Morrison has no such issue as a maid-servant in The Shadow, brought into the firelight in a big house where a group of young things are talking of ghosts. It’s a classic formula, with the older girl remembering her encounter with an all consuming shadow which, on the re-telling, has predictably distressing consequences.

sordid secrets

Annie Cook also steps up well, in the trouser role of Haldane, a successful young man who has come back from India in late Victorian times, enriched by his time abroad, but infuriated by his acquaintance Vizgar, who seems to know all the sordid secrets of the acquisition of his wealth.

As the bodies mount up, the question is whether Haldane is mad and an unreliable narrator, or whether it is the truth that he tells, and his conscience speaking. It’s another well-crafted piece, which calls to mind the best kind of spooky conundrum put into play by Inside Number 9.

The whole piece is also the most heavily staged work of the evening, with Pryce’s splendidly candle-bedecked set showing Nesbit’s parlour, the use of shadows, recorded voices and thrown light. If the use of sound and lighting is not always as subtle as it might be, it is non-the-less a satisfyingly frightening piece.

Without a jump-scare in sight, these three short plays show just what you can do with a strong imagination and a good script. And the best thing is that there are more shows to come.

All plays in the The Banshee Labyrinth, Chamber Room 29-35 Niddry St, Edinburgh EH1 1LG.

Running time: 40 minutes.
Thurs 26 – Sun 29 Oct 2023
Evenings: 5.20pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Sycamore Grove
Running time: 50 minutes.
Thurs 26 – Sun 29 Oct 2023
Evenings: 6.25pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Shadow in the Dark
Running time: One hour.
Thurs 26 – Sun 29 Oct 2023
Evenings: 7.40pm
Tickets and details: Book here.


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