The Devil Without, London Horror Festival

rsz_1devilHiding in a room above a pub in Camden, John is on the run from an archdemon that he initially believed was the angel Madimi, with whom he did a dodgy deal for his soul. This archdemon is so powerful that being in his presence is enough to kill a mortal. But don’t worry, everyone is safe as long as we follow John’s instructions and don’t go through the door. Arcane symbols and a circle of salt help protect us from harm, as does his wisdom and hundreds of years of life experience. We are there for a workshop of sorts, to learn how to augment our realities through the power of the liminal space that exists between realities and just happen to be caught up in the demon chase, so the audience must sign a waiver before entering the theatre. Part séance, part hypnotism show, part magic and part theatre, The Devil Without seamlessly merges genres and the occult in a frighteningly unpredictable show loaded with audience interaction.

It’s difficult to say much about this show’s details without giving away the elements that generate the near-constant surprise and suspense, but there is a storyline and a structure that definitely makes this a piece of highly effective theatre. Ian Harvey-Stone plays the character of the 500-year-old immortal, performing feats of mind control and magic that rely on audience participation, including four people taken on an out-of-body journey to see if it’s safe to emerge from the room. There are also guided meditations that are meant to reduce phobias and demonstrate the power of our own minds, which are uncomfortably successful. It’s certainly impressive as Harvey-Stone manages to fully convinces and disarms the audience. Logically I believe what he does must be trickery involving audience plants, but he’s so convincing that the seeds of doubts are there, especially with Harvey-Stone’s assurance that they aren’t and the show changes nightly – could it be real? After all, “magic features the power of words…speak something and it exists,” says John. This uncertainty contributes to the scare factor of the show; we are unsettled when logic cannot explain an occurrence.

Smoothly directed by John-David Henshaw, the use of light and sound emphasizes the paranormal with resonant tones and pulsing lights. Henshaw’s direction combined with Harvey-Stone’s performance makes them an impressive pair of suspense masters. As a former scare attraction performer and an aficionado of horror, it takes a lot to rattle me but The Devil Without is hugely unsettling. The fluid genre mash-up and Harvey-Stone’s committed performance combine to create a show that extends the genre of horror theatre in a wonderfully frightening direction.

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