Kick-starting this year’s London Horror Festival is Last Orders: The Haunting Of The Old Red Lion by The Knock Knock Club, shining a light into the dark recesses of the Big Smoke’s oldest pub theatre and asking “who’s there…?” Sam went to see who answered.
My nerves were shattered the second the show was started by someone slamming a door.
We were then plunged into darkness, interrupted only by our host with the most ghosts to boast brandishing a candle to tell us a tale. A tale of a man. Alone at night. With a mirror that’s started to knock.
Tales like these are terrifying on their own, but when they aren’t actually fiction… when they happened in somebody’s actual room, and when that room is the one you’re currently sat in… then they re-invent the word ‘uncomfortable’.
That discomfort was punctured when three ghosts donned bedsheets and jigged their way into the spotlight, setting the tone for his dance from horror to comedy that would occupy the next 70 minutes of our evening.
We had voice-overs, story-telling, video evidence, photographic projections, a live séance and Ouija board with quivering members of the audience, even a short interview with the pub’s resident boxer Rolo; we had the lot.
And the show was structured perfectly.
A three-act structure following their night in the theatre, pub and cellar, this docu-play interlaced fact and fiction, history and (sometimes shoehorned) humour to capture, challenge and confirm the existence of the supernatural within these walls.
I rather wished sceptic Christopher Keegan and believer Reece Connolly had been more polarised in their views with on-the-fence Caroline Buckley playing the voice of reason to mediate their squabblings, as Buckley felt unfortunately underused.
The feather in their cap, however, was the finale: a recreation of their night in the cellar.
Throwing the audience into pitch-black darkness, punctuated by flashes of fragmented torchlight to ensure everyone experienced the same fear as they did, really made me believe there was someone from beyond sitting right behind me.
This is the strongest string in the Last Orders bow: every ghost, ghoul and lingering spirit mentioned, referenced or captured in recording inhabits that very building.
Andy Nyman said the theatre is horror’s natural home, since the audience occupy the same physical space as the performers and whatever spectral threat is haunting them.
Nyman ought to stop by the Old Red sometime before October the 26th.
Verdict: Whilst the chills were stronger than the chuckles, Last Orders is, if anything, a homage to those who believe in life on the other side, encouraging both respect and fascination in the pursuit of the paranormal. Worth a watch for sceptics and believers alike.
By Sam Essame
The London Horror Festival takes place until the 2nd November at The Pleasance Theatre, and The Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington. Click here for our full preview.