Urban Death

Thu 2nd – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Lauren James

at 09:33 on 20th Aug 2018

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In all honesty, I was not remotely looking forward to Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group’s evening performance of ‘Urban Death’ given the website’s warning of ‘intense scenes of horror’. Taking my seat in front of a haunting corpse-like figure already in position on stage, I was uncertain as to whether I would ever sleep again.

This said, for the most part, the production is refreshingly subtler than its description as a ‘cult horror show’. Each individual episode of horror is intelligently choreographed and brilliantly costumed. Further, the actors are completely immersed in the scene in front of them, rendering even the paranormal scenes believable. The most intensely frightening episode saw an actor in a straitjacket maniacally laughing. Equally disturbing and poignant were two performers clutching each other naked and visibly shaking, awaiting a Nazi officer to separate them and implement history’s course. The inclusion of humour throughout was an effective foil in making such scenes more alarming.

Disappointingly, the scenes of sexual violence were less successful. Whilst initially making audiences feel uncomfortably voyeuristic, the disgust and corruption which they depicted became gratuitously offensive and viewers became numb to their shock-value.

Aside from this, the staging of ‘Urban Death’ is accomplished. Undoubtedly, the most horrific element to the show was the anticipation in confines of total darkness as to what would appear next. These blackouts were used brilliantly to generate fear, particularly in a scene at the show’s end in which the lights stayed down to enable performers to generate various sounds with increasing volume, ranging from rats scuttling to fraught whispers.

In attending ‘Urban Death’, the journey on which you are taken literally encapsulates the Fringe’s theme of ‘Into the Unknown’. Although not graphically horrifying from start to end, the show grips and frightens. Do not go alone.

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Alina Young

at 15:03 on 20th Aug 2018

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Though described as a “cult horror show”, don’t be misguided: 'Urban Death' is much more sophisticated and complex than watching a scary film or going to see the likes of Woman in Black. Consisting of a series of mostly non-verbal vignettes, the show expresses with stunning visual compositions many different interpretations of ‘horror’. What we often associate with horror – clowns, ghostly figures, extreme gore – are juxtaposed with the horrors of contemporary society. It encourages the audience to discern for themselves which versions are, in fact, the most frightening.

What makes this show appealing, regardless of whether you enjoy the genre, is its intelligent design. While it provokes fear and disgust, the scenes are also intended to comment on society’s relationship to horror. It exposes the horror of real, rather than supernatural, behaviour: in sex, in club culture, in religion, in relationships, even in eating meat. Aliens and killer monsters seem humorous in comparison.

Social commentary makes the show feel more modern, yet this doesn’t detract from the production’s mastery of terror. While there’s no set (allowing for the quick turnover of vignettes) the costumes and make-up are amazingly complex. It’s a wonder how the cast and crew are able to transform themselves so rapidly, which only makes the experience more nightmarish in its apparent impossibility.

The lighting design is integral to heightening emotions, making vignettes more mysterious with low visibility or more painfully graphic under harsh lights. Most powerful, however, is darkness. Each vignette is separated by a tense blackout, and so sound becomes the first sensory experience of the next scene. The show uses the feeling of vulnerability of being in the dark, and leaves the audience guessing what horror will suddenly be exposed as the lights come up.

The ensemble’s unified performance is extremely polished. To depict, often in under a minute, the stories of an enormous variety of exaggerated characters takes skill, but their use of their bodies is especially impressive. Without set or dialogue, the intensity of the characters is created by the actors’ control over their muscles and facial expressions.

Especially disturbing was the way bodies interacted with each other: the shock of full frontal nudity, a major feature in the show, was taken further by the casts’ sucking and grabbing of flesh. This theatre of the body was voyeuristic, as watching such actions felt deeply unnatural and yet strangely mesmerising.

'Urban Death' constantly shifts between inciting fear and repulsion, and encouraging curiosity. The anticipation in waiting for the next vignette is simultaneously frightening and exciting; the thrill of not knowing what’s coming next makes the viewing experience addictive. With its wide interpretation of what ‘horror’ is, 'Urban Death' is not only a slick performance of physical theatre, but a greedy feast of images that stay with you long afterwards.

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