A grim journey into a world of selfish vanity offers a disturbing take on art and modern culture, presented as part of the Vault festival in Waterloo.
This chilling new tale from Morgan Lloyd-Malcolm and Rachel Parish is based on a Japanese horror story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Artist Frank Holt is so hungry for fame that he allows himself to be seduced by the blandishments of a Mephisopheles-like agent into creating art that imitates the worst aspects of life, namely crime and cruelty.
This is communicated by an extremely impressive multi-media approach, with an eerie silver set by Ana Ines Jabares Pita, who won the Linbury prize in 2013, film-maker Susan Luciani’s imaginative and compelling projections, and composer Joe Hastings’ striking score.
Jonny Woo plays Holt with a convincing intensity, and Suzette Llewelyn communicates all the underhand charm, authority and ruthlessness of his agent, but the whole premise of his criminal art without frontiers is so outlandish that it’s difficult to accept as the basis of the jumpy narrative. Horror genre devotees may not flinch, but others could find it unpleasant to be talked through nasty real-life crimes, complete with visuals and sound effects that make you feel part of the action when you’d really rather not be.
Vanessa Schofield plays Frank’s daughter Amy, a self-sacrificing lamb who adores her dad and is actually the only thing in his life really worth having, could he but see it.
But her final departure takes Frank into the abyss and then out the other side in his feverish quest for YouTube views.
Schofield has a remarkably pure and dreamlike voice, which director Rachel Parish has very sensibly put at the heart of the production, as its soaring beauty brings atmosphere and quality to many scenes. There’s an uneasy relationship between father and daughter that sees Amy struggling with her dad’s controlling instinct, though ultimately she cannot trust him to have her best interests at heart.
The ensemble do a good job, working gamely with the audience to make this an immersive experience, and the Cavern in the Vaults is the perfect venue for a descent into the darkness.
But with such a grim storyline and such an unappealing hero in Frank, it’s difficult to fully engage with Hellscreen.