Horror is a difficult genre to nail- it can too quickly become ridiculous or swing the other way towards boring. This problem is compounded when there aren’t any visual elements to the story, as tension becomes far easier to build when you can rely on camerawork or special effects.
So really, Shivers had its work cut out for it. With just two people on stage-one man speaking, the other playing the violin- they told a selection of three stories from the so-called “Book of Darkness and Light”, a fictional anthology that supposedly recruits innocent bystanders and forces them on a pilgrimage, telling stories wherever they go.
Honestly, it was one of my favourite pieces of horror media all year.
As I said, horror is a difficult genre. There needs to be a balance struck between creeping dread and outright terror, and Shivers managed it with finesse. The storyteller is a truly gifted voice actor, his accents and mannerisms changing swiftly without ever seeming comedic, and with only the occasional off-stage voice-over he spoke continuously for the first hour of the performance before the interval. As anybody familiar with public speaking or performing monologues will know, that is no mean feat. The acting truly never faltered, and that precious immersion integral to a good horror story was never broken.
His partner, the violinist, was similarly flawless. Dressed entirely in black and standing unobtrusively in the shadows, sometimes he seemed to fade from existence, but the soundtrack he provided brought the entire performance together. Each of the three stories has their own distinct soundtrack, but with enough common elements between them that they were undeniably part of a coherent whole. Pizzicato strings were either nerve-jangling and jerky or folksy and pensive, the long chords, in turn, heart-breaking and sinister. And again, like any good horror, silence fell at just the right time.
On top of these excellent performances were frankly superb narratives. The true genius of each of them lay in their subversions of classic horror tropes. Just when my housemate (who I pulled along for the ride) and I thought we knew where the story was going, we were proved wrong. The first tale, The New Priest of Blackpines, seems like a bog-standard vampire story… right up until it isn’t. The final story, A Horror in Porcelain, seems like your common or garden haunted doll… until it isn’t. The second story Dead Air was the most innovative of the bunch, told through a radio show, and ended up being the most terrifying (in my opinion). Shivers worked best when it had abandoned the tropes altogether and let itself create entirely new narratives.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I adored Shivers. It was polished, extremely well-conceived and even more well executed. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it, frankly. I’d be interested to know whether they’re doing more shows nearby and whether the stories differ from show to show. If they do, then I’d recommend this show as a must-see for every horror fan. And even if it stays the same, probably go and see it anyway. Shivers gets five stars from me, and an enthusiastic recommendation.
This Halloween-festive event was hosted by our fantastic local venue, The Dukes. For more of their upcoming shows, spooky or otherwise, head to dukes-lancaster.org