“We, the living, will not hurt you.”
Blindfolded, we stood in the basement, chanting the above over and over. We were trying to coax the spirit of a girl named Emily into joining us, our intentions were to put her tormented soul to rest. Of course, it wasn’t meant to be…
The show began in the loading bay of a building that looked fairly inconspicuous from the street. Here, our host Michael introduced himself to the group and explained why he had gathered us together that evening. Before long, we were lead into the aforementioned basement where the meat of the show took place; the seance to try and bring Emily into the physical world. Emily was a girl who had recently been discovered in the same basement, held captive as part of a ritual. She’d died mere moments after being freed and now her spirit apparently occupied that space. We were present to close that loop and assist her in moving on.
On paper, this show sounded similar to 139 Copeland Road (http://scareaddicts.com/139-copeland-road-review) and the reality didn’t betray this assumption. It’s pretty difficult to review this show without referencing 139 Copeland Road as they shared pretty much every element. Although we’ll say this now, 139 Copeland Road pulled the concept off better with The Harrowing feeling very undercooked. We’ll try and refrain from spoilers (although the show has now completed its run) but proceed with caution!
The centrepiece of The Harrowing was the seance and the build-up to this scene felt a lot more authentic than the one in 139 Copeland Road. We had to interact with paraphernalia at this gathering rather than just holding hands and repeating incantations. Those interactions, although small, made the proceedings feel more real to us. This was aided in no small part by the eeriness of the location, an old carpet factory. To get to the basement we had to use an old-school service elevator – the best location is a real location and it went a long way to aiding immersion!
And the actor portraying Michael carried the role really well. It was a grounded, realistic performance that, when reflecting on the show afterwards, was way more effective than we appreciated at the time.
One thing that neither The Harrowing nor 139 Copeland Road got right was the ending. We appreciate that you don’t want to break the immersion by having someone come out at the end and say, ‘show’s over’ but there has to be a better way than leaving people standing around wondering if they’re still in the show or not. It sounds like a good thing, the idea that you’re so immersed that you can’t distinguish fiction from reality but this definitely wasn’t that. The ending was so completely jarring that we were just utterly confused. At least 139 Copeland Road signposted the ending better by having the show finish on the street. Here, we were still inside the building. That’s definitely one thing that these immersive theatre experiences need to improve upon, sticking the landing!
Running for forty-five minutes, The Harrowing was also super brief considering that around ten minutes of that runtime was devoted to the introduction (including collecting of phones) and a needless exercise where we were made to share a secret with someone that we didn’t know in the group. Cutting that out, it all added up to a runtime of not much longer than thirty minutes. The issue here was that there was very little story. 139 Copeland Road went to great lengths to immerse you in its world and we can still remember that tale well. Here, the plot points were haphazardly dropped in and the ending arrived so quickly that we found it hard to care. This was the biggest observation of the evening, the story was so underdeveloped that the ending wasn’t earned. That said, we definitely liked the idea that the ending put forward, it just needed more of a build-up to be as powerful as it could have been.
Tied into this, the short run time meant that the scares were relegated to a fleeting stretch at the end. Little of this section had much impact. We think it was caught in the awkward position of trying to be subtle about what was occurring but ended up delivering something so understated that pretty much everyone in our group looked more bemused than anything.
The Harrowing (2017) Splutter Theatre
The Harrowing genuinely had the potential to be a great event. The more that we think about it, the more we enjoyed the concept thrown to us in the final moments of the show. However, there was no meat on these bones, leaving the experience feeling rushed and half-baked. There's definitely a great show in there but an all too brief runtime, coupled with little actually happening, stacked up to a less than satisfying evening.
Ticket Price: £15
Address: 74 Long Lane, London, SE1 4AU