The inaugural Greater Manchester Horror Fringe has kicked off with a sneak preview of one of its original pieces, Centurion.
Written by Baz Greenland, Centurion sees the scout ship Venture on its mission to assess an inhospitable planet for colonisation. But Rick, Callum and Dyon may not be alone. There’s something out there, in the storms. Does it had anything to do with the lost ship Centurion?
A site specific piece (and I didn’t realise how specific until the performance) I saw a preview of this new slice of sci-fi spookiness. It’s clear we’re in sci-fi territory from the start with talk of the ship’s log, holotubes and planet designation numbers. The rather simple plot to assess the planet takes a sinister turn with the discovery of a fragment that one of the Venture crew believes may be part of the lost ship Centurion.
What Greenland does do is present an interesting combination with Callum and Dyon, the man and wife of the expedition and poor Rick, left to listen to their desperate lovemaking nightly. Rick is the main thrust of events, descending into his own personal kind of hell. It’s a valid attempt at psychological horror and one that fits neatly inside the cavernous interior of Fab Cafe. Could events all be in Rick’s head? Tom Reed-Goodehall’s performance certainly makes it possible.
As a preview, its not fair to make any judgements in terms of a score at this stage. And whilst Centurion is not a perfect play, when all the promised visual elements come together under Paul Anderton’s capable direction, Centurion should be one of the bolder experiments into new territory for the Fringe.
Elsewhere, in the gothic surroundings of the Town Hall Tavern, you are invited to spend time with perhaps the greatest ever writer of ghost stories, MR James – in the person of acclaimed actor Howard Whittock (The Year of the Sex Olympics, The Ray Harryhausen Skeleton Orchestra). Join him as he relates one of his most chilling tales – that of the mysterious Swedish nobleman, Count Magnus, and the Englishman who was unfortunate enough to stumble upon the count’s legacy.
A very basic, but all the more evocative for it, production, Count Magnus impresses with its cast of one. Howard Whittock, in the mantle of MR James, is a master storyteller. The storytelling device of having James recount the story through recovered fragments may have been bettered, but James’s style still remains as powerful as ever.
Revelling in the unfortunate tale of Mr. Wraxall, James’s clever use of language shines through thanks to Whittock’s strong narration. Much of the horror here is suggestive, with the blanks left to the imagination. It’s a clever combination of setting, performance and story. At point, by design or sheer luck, the Town Hall bell rang, and for one moment, it was terribly easy to forget that you were sat in a pub in Manchester, and suddenly imagine yourself in Victorian England. Simplistic lighting effects also heighten tension, bathing Whittock’s face in a blood moon red at one point.
Count Magnus itself may not be one of James’s best known stories, I certainly wasn’t familiar with it, but it has within a number of tropes familiar to purveyors of ghost stories. A chilling scene where the padlocks on Magnus’s tomb drop off still has the power to jolt – even after it has been aped by Hammer films.
Much of your reaction to it is going to depend how much you enjoy a good story and how much you can exercise your imagination. unlike many other performances, Count Magnus relies on atmosphere rather than pointing out blow by blow what is happening. Ghost stories are a bit of a dying art, and rarely do you get a chance to have one performed in front of you. Count Magnus has a lot to offer considering its relatively short length, and is a highlight of the Fringe so far.
See a video trailer below:
Centurion runs at Fab Cafe from Saturday 26 – Monday 28 October whilst Count Magnus is on at the Town Hall Tavern on Sat 26 and Thursday 31 October only.