A Terrifying Tale of Terrible Things? With such alliterative allure we are beckoned to witness the strange story of fretful fraternal twins, Victor and Victoria. At curtain, on a darkened stage, the two children lie side by side in a commodious bed that features a headboard resembling, is it, a pair of pitching headstones? (Thank you Edward Gorey.) Sinister noises reverberate around them, hinting at… what? It’s too terrible to say, and Victor, the softer-hearted sibling, rouses suddenly from his sleep with a blood-curdling (and ear-cramping) shriek. Victoria is not the only one sitting bolt upright in the theater after that, but mercifully it is her task and not ours to calm the quaking Victor and convince him that his night terrors were just a dream. Or, were they?
Nothing seems to offer comfort for long as fearsome sounds barricade them into their room, and all attempts at distraction end by invoking horrible happenings. When the duo discover a bedtime book called a Terrifying Tale of Terrible Things (strange, I don’t recall that being there) they are compelled to read it, as sleep, now, is out of the question. And thus they embark on the initially elevating tale of the dauntless young sea captain, Archibald, and his beauteous beloved, Myfanwy. The twins throw themselves into the story, enacting with gusto the various characters of the book. But just as with the earlier efforts to raise their spirits and calm their nerves, this tale takes on a tragical tone, waxing woeful as it turns terrifying. Where will it end and what especial significance does the story hold for the plighted, plot-plagued playmates?
Yes, it’s a dark and stormy night alright, and we all know the ropes. Which is why it is all the more remarkable that out attention is held in an unrelenting head-lock by these two limber principals, who throw us every creaky cliche of the genre, but with their own special spin. In matching black, pudding-bowl haircuts, and floral nursery blouses, they resemble a set of Tim Burtonesque bookends as they grimace, prance, and shriek their way around the stage in broad impersonations that might ordinarily have audiences groaning. But we are in the hands of a gifted pair of physical comedians, fully committed to the arch-silliness of their story, and their gravitational pull is irresistible. Nathan Cuckow is the slightly wimpish Victor, and Beth Graham the gleefully ghoulish Victoria. There is a natural comedic chemistry between the two, with Cuckow playing an admirably earnest straight man beside Graham’s capering cut-up. Her quivering little dance of childish enthusiasm is priceless and could comfortably put Snoopy in the dog house. It comes as no great surprise to learn that these talented actors are in fact the joint authors of this comedy. The award winning production is by Kill Your Television Theatre hailing from Edmonton, Canada. Kevin Sutley directs with a firm hand, never allowing the show to descend into buffoonery, and in turn is beautifully served by his actors, who, on a minimally dressed stage, adroitly transform simple props into effective tale-telling devices.
In the best traditions of Gorey, the Gothic gourmand, things get pretty gnarly and horrific, - madness, infanticide, cannibalism, live-interment – taking it all just a little beyond the friendly G rating that (real) children might follow. The ghastliness is lavishly laid-on with the artful assistance of Terry Fairfield as sound designer. Everything comes together as a deliciously delectable boo! All in all it’s an absolute romp. For a brief moment we are like children again. Children alone. In a theater. In the dark.