Saturday, 31 October 2020

REVIEW: Ghosts of Stanley Halls at The Stanley Halls

Halloween approaches and so does the desire to experience a spooky evening. “Ghosts of Stanley Halls” is just the answer offering a scary, immersive experience held at The Stanley Halls themselves. An immersive experience is an impressive feat at the best of times but during such restrictive times I was eager to find out how this could be achieved. 

Opened in 1903 The Stanley Halls is an ornate building that stands out in the heart of South Norwood. Created by British architect and inventor William Stanley, the halls were built to provide the local community with a public space for concerts, plays and lectures. Knowing the history of the venue adds gravitas to the occasion forcing me to imagine the rich history of people and events that have taken place here over the last century. 

The Halloween spirit felt immediate, arriving on a moonlight night, and being led to the outside bar area with glowing pumpkins and the sounds of seasonal hits such as “Ghostbusters” and “Thriller”. The anticipation of a horror filled night started to bubble like a witch’s cauldron. 

As the show is a walk-through immersive experience the show is being held in batches of small groups, with roughly 12 in our group. Before entering the experience, a tour guide gave us a rundown of the rules and regulations ensuring that all Government Guidelines had been adhered too. In addition to ensuring that we keep our face masks on at all times we were told that each room in the experience had white crosses spaced apart on the floor for each person or social bubble to stand on with a comfortable amount of space in between crosses. In addition, we were asked to ensure that whilst moving through the experience we keep two metres from each other. This worked surprisingly successfully, and I was impressed that I felt that guidelines were being met whilst not sacrificing the atmosphere of the piece. 

The guide pointed us towards the first room and from then forward as the story unfolded we were naturally lead round various parts of the labyrinth halls of the building. I had the unfortunate position of being first through the door and consequently continued being the unlucky front person that with a tremble of the hand had to open door after door and lead the adopted group of nervous patrons. 

Directed and produced by Tom Brocklehurst, the scary journey begins as we enter the first space, a green tiled room of past charm with rustic fireplaces and the haunted air of a place that has seen many scenes over the decades. We are introduced to the secretary of the “Stanley Halls Murder Society”, an awkwardly agitated character, clearly troubled by his surroundings. He gives the audience a frantic introduction with suitably creepy lighting and background music creating an appropriately uncomfortable feeling from the start. I caught myself repeatedly scanning each room and internally preparing myself for any point in which a ghost or ghoulie could leap out to startle us. 

As we continue through the spine chilling experience we meet a traumatised lady accounting the surreal thought that her dead school friend has casually reappeared and later a seemingly possessed lady in the basement who warns us of the unseen figure “Daghdeer” that loves luring unsuspecting children to her cooking pot. The three monologues are both professionally written and charismatically performed but they make the evening feel disjointed. It was not until after the performance that I realised each story had been written by different people which explains the differing styles. Personally, I think that more could have been gained from having a connecting story that built up momentum potentially discussing a fictional story about the history of the Halls themselves. 

The eerie vibes were at their peak when the group were left to cautiously clamber through the creepy corridors and down the Solomon staircases with trepidation. The bubble nearest me was a mother and young son who went from seeming confidant and semi engaged to screaming in a pitch that could have shattered chandeliers. This anxiety made me pretend that I wasn’t feeling as fearful as I cautiously lead the pack through the terrifying trail, facing several shakes and surprises along the way. 

It is absolutely wonderful to be able to experience an exciting, interactive show in these difficult times for the theatre world. Head to Stanley Halls for a great kickstart to the Halloween season! 

Review by Myles Ryan 

Rating: ★★★
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