The Wicker Hamper, Old Red Lion Theatre

Inspired by 1973 cult horror film The Wicker Man and his love for comedy, young writer Ed Hartland tries to take a humorous approach to 1970s horror films in self-referential, metatheatrical mashup The Wicker Hamper. Set on Winterisle, a remote island off the Scottish coast, Marcie arrives to start a new job as Lady Winterisle’s PA. Staying at a hotel run by Norman Bates and his mysterious mother before her job starts, Marcie hears rumours about human sacrifice on the upcoming Samhain Day. With the island’s amdram company folding because of the budget cuts, stakes are particularly high amongst the desperate, twisted islanders and their renewed pagan belief system inspires them to pull out all stops to save their precious theatre company.

Drawing on numerous classic horror films for his story, Hartland lines up the gags like beads on a necklace. The plot is choppy and often illogical as he relentlessly goes for punchline after punchline, though hardcore, horror film fans will find the references funny. His theatre jokes come into their own in the final scene, but this isn’t enough to redeem the script of its cheap laughs. There are some voiceover characters that are never fully explained, and the rapidly changing locations are not always clear, occasionally leading to further confusion.

The cast of five are clearly having a great time, and there are some good performances. Sophie Hughes as hunchback Igore and the hotel receptionist is versatile and watchable, committing to her characters rather than solely playing up to the humour. Hannah Grace May (Marcie) shows good range as a sweet new arrival, and an angry victim fighting for her life.

Hartland has some nice ideas in The Wicker Hamper and his love for genre films and comedy is abundantly clear. The passion and fun are unwavering and lovely to watch, even though the script needs a lot of polish.

The Wicker Hamper is now closed.

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