Qui Nguyen is a playwright and co-artistic director of New York City’s Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company. According to the company, its mission is to create and produce new work emphasising action/adventure and dark comedy with a comic book aesthetic, and to produce shows that mix multiple genres.
Nguyen’s Alice in Slasherland certainly fits the bill. Set in a small Californian town, the show introduces us to a dorky high school-aged teen, Lewis (Bardiya McKinnon), while he’s recording the latest instalment of a cringeworthy video blog. He talks about Margaret (Mia Morrissey), his best friend who apparently has no idea that he’s in love with her. They’re both set to attend a Halloween party hosted by Tina (Laura Murphy), the head cheerleader, and Lewis is determined that this is the time to reveal all. He’s convinced the evening will be a life-changing experience.
As it turns out, the night is ultimately “life-changing” but not just for Lewis and Margaret. Lewis fortuitously conjures the soul of a murdered girl, Alice (Stella Ye), and unleashes Hell on Earth (literally). So, now Lewis, Alice and his schoolmates must save the town from the emissaries of the devil with which it has quickly become infested. They’ll even get some help from a sassy, demonic teddy bear, Edgar (Justin Amankwah).
Alice in Slasherland may be one of the silliest plays you’ll see this year but, under Rachel Kerry’s direction, it is actually a funny and enjoyable experience. After an earnestly-delivered excerpt from the Bible’s Book of Revelations, Nguyen’s text swiftly reveals itself as an amusing spoof on the slasher horror movie genre. There’s somewhat of a call in its closing moments to audience members to profess their love for one another without haste and some moments throughout that approach the menacing, but, make no mistake, Nguyen wants us to laugh.
And, overall, while it may not be the sharpest humour you’ll encounter, his text is funny and well received on opening night by an eclectic crowd. Combat and movement director Nigel Poulton (assisted by Jack Crumlin and Tim Dashwood) has nicely choreographed several fight sequences, successfully infusing those interactions with humour.
Things could quickly go south if left in less able hands than Kerry and her cast. McKinnon is terrific as the lovesick nerd who is immediately recognisable as the quintessential socially-clumsy male teen. Morrissey’s portrayal of Margaret neatly balances awkwardness with edge and firmness. Ye is strong as the undead Alice; her intense, steely gaze convincing us of her character’s underworldly origin from the outset. Murphy, meanwhile, is an asset to the cast; a performer with a sizeable stage presence, she’s got the rancorous cheerleader role down pat and has well-honed comedic skills.
Perhaps the biggest applause should be reserved for Amankwah, who not only voices the crude and proudly demonic teddy bear with confidence and demonstrates excellent comedic timing, but also performs the function of puppeteer (puppet construction and design here is by Indigo Redding). He doesn’t throw away a single line, aptly making Edgar the source of a lion’s share of the laughs.
Alice in Slasherland is fun and folly end of the world-themed entertainment that gives the horror flick a loving lampooning. Bonus points for weaving into the madness Bonnie Tyler’s epic power ballad, Total Eclipse of the Heart.
ALICE IN SLASHERLAND – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 11 May 2019
Performance times: Tuesday – Saturday: 7:30pm; Saturday matinees: 2pm; Sunday: 5pm)
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre (129 Dowling St, Woolloomooloo)
Ticket prices: $30 – $55
* Ticket prices adjustable pending demand