When: 14 - 30 September 2018
Where: Bluestone Church Arts Space
Written by: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Briony Kidd, Edgar Allan Poe, and Saki
Directed by: Simon J Green
Performed by: Caitlin Mathieson
Design by: Jaz Wickson
Night Terrors is in its third Melbourne Fringe iteration, with the others taking place in 2014 and 2016. In both previous productions the narrator was concept creator Stefan Taylor, but this year Taylor has stepped aside and Caitlin Mathieson takes over the reins with skill, confidence and a great deal of aplomb.
Each time the show is produced, the stories change a bit. I don't know if it was Taylor or Green who chose this year, but this wonderful quartet of spine-chilling monologues is perfectly suited to the changing of the guard.
Three of the stories told - 'The Tell-tale Heart' by Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and 'The Open Window' by Saki - are straight from the heyday of the horror genre, the 1800s. Slipped in amongst this pedigree collection is 'The Keepsake', a story written by Tasmanian writer Briony Kidd and it is as sure-footed in tone and effect as all of the others.
Wickson has created the perfect environment for an evening of chilling tales, using the architecture of the old church as the foundation upon which she has layers simple icons such as a chaise longue, tapestry rug, and a dressing screen which is creatively and evocatively used by Green in two of the pieces. Mathieson's costume is equally as well thought out and integrated with just enough in the detail - such as the selection of materials - to place us in a foreign time and place, but with still enough modernity to not allow us to disassociate completely...keeping it real as it were.
A great deal of effort has also been made to make the performance accessible, so they have a monitor which has been mounted on an easel which has the show captioned and presented in sign language. Rather than hanging this technology out as an oddity, the mounting of the screen, putting it in the space, and then incorporating it somewhat into the design shows a stunning and rare commitment to the ideas of accessibility. It also means it is accessible every night, not just on the nights the company can afford to hire an Auslan interpreter.
And don't worry, after a first glance to register it's presence, this level of integration means it is easy to ignore if you don't need it and Mathieson's storytelling skills are more than up to the task of keeping our attention locked on her for the the entire show.
The difference between a nightmare and a night terror is the first is hard to get rid of once you are awake. A night mare lingers in the mind beyond the realm of sleep. Night terrors will cause you to scream, but they won't wake you and once you are awake you will probably not even remember them happening at all. I love the name Night Terrors for this event because it is not designed to cause you to lose sleep.
Instead Night Terrors is an evening which embraces the spooky, but also the absurd. As much as you will be horrified as Gilman's woman becomes the very creature she has been fascinated by, you will also laugh as Saki's young lady plays the ultimate practical joke.
Night Terrors has a sound track and lighting which all work to support every aspect of tension building and suspense. Shadows loom, and silhouettes lurk as Mathieson creeps around the stage burying bodies, locking doors, and innocently drinking tea as the people around her are befuddled and bewildered - and in one case beheaded.
It is well worth the trip to Footscray to see this show and on the 23rd the producers, The X Gene, are putting on a special event so you should probably go twice - once to see this reviewed version of the show and once to check out the Emergence version! This Sunday The X Gene are presenting Night Terrors: Emergence in which they have invited a group of talented female theatre makers to reinterpret the stories their way.