The ‘anti-panto’ seems to be well and thriving in Manchester. Whilst the tradiational panto is still very popular, the growth of Christmas performances that cater for those who prefer an alternative take on a December stuffed with meagre TV stars screeching at (admittedly excited) children, is delightfully refreshing. Past productions in Manchester have included Sinderfella at The Dancehouse and Harvey at the Lass O’Gowrie, and 2013 is providing to be no exception.
Assembled Junk over at the Kings Arms have given an accomplished, if crowded, take on Little Shop of Horrors. Meanwhile, over the other side of the city at Affleck Palace’s Three Minute Theatre, Vertigo Productions (this time under the moniker of Vertigoes to Hell Productions) have served up a hilarious parody on the slasher movies of the 70’s and 80’s in their Christmas Sorority Massacre.
Taking those slasher movies and parodying their cheesy plotlines and appalling characterisation has been done before, most notably in Scary Movie, but rarely has it been achieved on stage. You can guess the plot – six teens trapped in a house come under attack from a masked, frenzied killer. One by one, they are picked off and killed in a very red Christmas indeed..
There is much humour to be had in Craig Hepworth and Stuart Reeve’s script as it viciously claws its way through nearly every horror trope going. Dale Vickers and Adele Stanhope are responsible for much of this humour, Stanhope’s brain-dead Heather providing many of the laughs through her ditzy characterisation whilst Vickers continues to build on the comic timing developed in Someone’s Borrowed, Someone’s Blue with his engaging and amusingly over-the-top blonde cheerleader.
David Lock and Richard Allen provide eye candy for the discerning guys and girls in the audience, the latter spending much of the production clad only in his y-fronts. Newcomer Joe Mallalieu’s performance as meat-head Jack also provides many laughs as his character is brutally deconstructed on stage – and indulges in a hilarious parody of the Diet Coke adverts.
The whole production (and indeed this write up) is tongue-in-cheek and provides light relief after a very successful, but difficult year for Manchester’s Fringe companies. Christmas Sorority Massacre is outrageous and over the top, but as antidote to Christmas pantomimes’, it works. My only real regret, despite all the laughter, is that there wasn’t more gore. The death scenes were executed well on stage, but I was aching for more violence. Perhaps that says more about me though.
From a technical standpoint, the comedy is well-sustained and there is some inventive use of drapes and lighting for spookily silhouetted scenes. There are a couple of stumbling blocks with the script – but nothing that a couple more performances wouldn’t have ironed out. Most of the outrageously camp humour isn’t for under sixteens either, something made clear by Vertigoes to Hell with the production featuring bad language, sexual comedy and partial nudity. Whilst some of that might not be to your taste, you can’t doubt that Vertigoes to Hell know what they’re doing with much hysterical laughter coming from the audience.
Manchester’s Fringe have provided a multitude of options for an alternative to the traditional pantomime, with Christmas Sorority Massacre catering for a crowd seeking an amusing performance that allows the performers and audiences alike to let their hair down in a much-needed laugh-o-thon. For 2014, it’s back to hard-hitting drama from Vertigo, but lets hope the tradition of the anti-panto continues for many years to come.