2 SCARY Fringe plays

The scary thing about trying to see a scary play at the Fringe is how few truly scary plays there seem to be. So many comedies, so much improv, so many real life dramas – scary enough – and oh, so many musicals.

Yet there are chills to be had if you look. Just be careful what you wish for:

The Turn of the Screw

From AEQUILUX Productions, Edmonton, Venue 9

You don’t need special effects to create good horror. What you need is a good story, and persuasive people to tell it.

With this chilling tale that feels like the Victorian version of The Shining, the actors themselves deliver the most vivid special effects of all. You can almost see the cursed lake by the lonely gothic mansion where a new nanny is slowly driven mad by the adorable creepy children she cares for. You can’t go wrong with creepy kids in horror. Also, there may be ghosts.

The play is based on the 1898 novella by Henry James, adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher. Shanni Pinkerton and Darrell Portz, in formal period costume, play all the characters – the slimy rich uncle who wants nothing to do with domestic life, the innocent governess, the creepy kids – and they are astounding. When Portz makes the effortless switch from the serious British male narrator to the female Scottish housekeeper with an almost Monty Python accent, there are laughs, but it’s a ruse. The scene lulls you into a false sense that this might be a lighter piece than it seems, and then they hit you with one gut-wrenching twist after another. Indeed, the story lives up to its title, as with each passing day, with each “turn of the screw,” the hapless governess becomes more and more unhinged. From a fairly well-mannered build-up, screams fill the theatre. The performances from both actors at the climactic point are harrowing.

The hair on the back of your neck may never stand down.

5 out of 5

Prom Night of the Living Dead: A Zombie High School Musical!

From Theatrex, Edmonton, Venue 30 (Varscona Hotel)

When you turn a horrifying story into a musical, comedy is inevitable. It’s the nature of the beast.

In this lively show from a large cast of hard-working, enthusiastic actors, two tropes have been mashed together. Fresh hilarity with a tinge of true terror results. We have the usual zombie-bites-guy, guy-turns-into-a-zombie, guy-bites-girl, zombies-take-over-the-world sort of story. The other cliché is the typical high school drama pitting the cool kids against the nerds. Of course they have to work together to fight the growing zombie horde – and they all learn something. For a short time, anyway.

The music consists of modern pop songs mutilated with Weird Al-type lyrics. You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful becomes You Don’t Know You’re Evil; They turn “here’s my number, so call me maybe” into “you’re a zombie, so brains are tasty,” and you get the idea. Killer choreography for such a small stage.

Little touches round out this clever and self-aware show written and directed by Brian Wissink: Like the drug dealer dude (Dylan Caddy) who insists that Green Eggs and Ham is an allegory for acceptance of homosexuality. Liam McKinnon as the drama class geek is another comic standout. He gives the Fun song Carry On new life (death) with the line, “I’ll bury your corpse tonight.” Maya Molly (who can sing) plays the stereotypical stuck-up cheerleader with perfect drama, dealing with not only the Zombie Apocalypse, but social standing in high school where you’d literally rather die than hang out with uncool kids.

When seeing an amateur theatre production like this at the Fringe, you tend to forgive flaws, but it’s really not necessary here. These young actors are all pretty convincing. The script is terrific, only a little corny. And sure, some of them can sing, some flat out can’t – but they don’t care! Besides, they’re all going to end up as zombies anyway (spoiler alert), so it works out.

4 out of 5