ISOBEL MACLEOD reviews Last Orders at the Red Lion.
‘We are still here’.
What makes mirrors scary? What makes us worry that our reflections might misbehave, smiling back for a moment too long? I suppose a good guess would be our self-sabotaging ways. Often we are our own worst enemies – but we can’t escape ourselves. Macbeth sends a crow into a rooky wood. Crow to rook: the bird flies away but comes back to itself, much as we do if we ever try to run from our thoughts.
Last Orders by the Knock Knock Club opens with a story about a mirror, delivered – bravely – by flickering candlelight; and from the first few lines of this captivating, campy monologue, I knew I was in for a treat. The Knock Knock Club pack a ghoulish punch. In their contribution to London Horror Festival they creep through the over 500-year-old venue of the Red Lion Pub and Theatre, searching for the ghosts that lurk in its rafters. They say Macbeth is bad luck, but after Last Orders I could barely sleep, certain a spectral someone from the pub was in the corner of my room, watching, as promised. That said, unlike the Scottish play, this show serves its scares alongside a healthy dose of laughs, in a brilliantly entertaining combination of frights, comedy, and storytelling. All in all, it’s very good fun.
Christopher Keegan, Reece Connolly, and Caroline Buckley – one sceptic, one believer, and one who’s on the fence – promise to deliver well-researched, ‘terrifying and true theatre’, and they don’t disappoint. Slipping as they do between investigative, paranormal documentary and good old-fashioned ghost story they blur the lines of fact and fiction, while addressing the audience directly means there isn’t much in the way of a fourth wall. We, the audience, are brought into the tale. They make us part of the haunting. The result is a compelling hour and ten minutes of spooky fun during which I can safely say my attention never strayed from the three on stage, so committed were they to their storytelling.
At several moments I also found myself touched by what I saw and heard. Last Orders pays homage to the inherent melancholy of the ghost story. One of the many spectral characters is a French lady heard to ‘call out’ – she must be lonely – and another is an anonymous ghost, one of so many ‘untold voices lost in time’, which makes you think that perhaps the reason we are so scared of the dead is the mirror they hold up to us: one day, we’ll be forgotten too. There’s not so much of a difference between the dead and the living – we all just want to be seen.
The Red Lion is an incredibly old venue and has been a pub its whole life. Countless pairs of feet have crossed its threshold, dusted their shoes in its doorway. At one point during the play, Christopher refers to ‘the crimson drenched heart of the pub’, which I think sums up beautifully the strange paradox of such a historical venue: that it is alive with the dead, thrumming with them, its heart beating with the echoes of their ghostly footsteps. Likewise, for something concerned with death, the play is full of life. The audience were giggling, gasping, and jumping.
Elegantly executed and faultlessly delivered, Last Orders fizzes with chemistry – not only within the cast or between cast and audience, but between all of us and the space. True to their claim, the Knock Knock Club make the venue the star of their show. I think we were all aware of this shadowy fourth player, bearing down on us, sitting with us. We could feel it in the walls, which – to steal a line from the play – absorb history, send its echoes down through time towards us.
So should ghost stories make us feel lonely or crowded? If I walked into the Red Lion theatre tonight after it had closed, would I be all alone, or would we be all together? Last Orders sends its own crow into a rooky wood, and the shout comes back loudly: ‘We are still here!’ I’ll think about that the next time I look at my reflection – or should I say, when it looks at me.
Last Orders runs from the 8th-26th October at The Red Lion, more information here.
Featured image courtesy of The Knock Knock Club.