So after catching Urban Death at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we knew that we had to see the show in its home location someday. How could we not? Luckily, we already had our L.A. excursion on the cards so it took all of two seconds to ensure that this was dropped onto the itinerary!
Urban Death – Tour of Terror essentially follows the same format as the Edinburgh show; short vignettes ranging from a couple of seconds through to maybe a minute at the absolute longest. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time to set something up and pay it off but trust us, it works. There’s a true mastery of narrative storytelling at play here where every sketch follows an arc or makes some sort of statement in, sometimes, the amount of time it takes to blink.
And though we won’t discuss the specifics, there were two pieces that, for us, solidified what Urban Death is so accomplished at. If you’ve seen the show, the two scenes were the retro video game-tinged performance and the section featuring the ‘World’s Best Boss’. What these two segments pulled off wonderfully were setting up an OTT situation, adding some bizarre sound design to create a sense of comicality and then just playing out. When you absorb what’s happening, there’s a challenging dichotomy – the audio effects and music make you want to laugh, the actors’ (deliberately) cheesy expressions compliment the jaunty audio, yet what is actually happening is decidedly not funny. Especially in the case of the boss sketch. The imagery there was too relatable and it didn’t seem massively comfortable for some of the performers, leaving you feeling somewhat guilty for initially finding the scenario humorous. And that’s what Urban Death does brilliantly – we noted the same thing in our Edinburgh review. It’s a smart way of addressing topical issues as the juxtaposition forces you to stop and consider everything that’s happening before your eyes.
Though we’ve only caught two of their shows at this point, there are two other key ingredients that we’ve observed as far as Urban Death goes.
Firstly, the sound design. It’s a character of its own in this show. It’s so brilliantly pitched in that it’s never predictable. At points, it ably amplifies the atmosphere of the vignettes, especially layering on mood in the darker moments. But then, at other junctures, it goes in the opposite direction, catching your attention by wildly diverging with the performance. It’s all perfectly measured and we cannot imagine the show having the same impact without the audio accompaniment. It really is that essential to Urban Death.
And then, obviously, the cast. These guys do impress me, the way that they keep pace with something that’s forever morphing. One minute they could be hamming it up but in the next, screaming for their lives! To effortlessly ride the waves of this constantly mutating beast is no short order. There’s also a surprising amount of physicality to Urban Death – at times you can really feel what these performers are going through! And then you chuck in the show’s frequent use of nudity and you end up with roles that have to be challenging! The thing that makes this all the more remarkable? The proximity of the stage to the audience. The actors are literally within arm’s reach of patrons making for a very intimate relationship. And, with all this considered, they turn in mesmerising performances that you can’t look away from, even when the scenes are tough to watch!
The downside to this show? Well, though it was incredible, there’s a very distinct difference between Tour of Terror and what we saw in Edinburgh. Tour of Terror, as Urban Death’s Halloween iteration, makes some concessions to the season, being bookended by a scare maze. However, using the term scare maze is slightly reductive. There aren’t any generic clowns or deranged hillbillies swinging axes here. This is an Urban Death maze after all! We wouldn’t know where to begin trying to explain the characters and things that we saw in there! It’s definitely an unconventional haunt and a superb experience for it. The limited light (you’re given a flashlight to navigate the pathway) coupled with the indescribable sights and that reliable Urban Death soundscape makes for one of the freshest haunt adventures that we’ve had in recent years. But it comes at the expense of the main show. Having this opening and closing maze meant that the middle portion was abridged – maybe a bit over half the length of the Edinburgh show. With the mazes included, the overall durations were probably similar but we just love the core content so much that we’d rather have more of that in place of the haunts. It’s a nice way to vary the presentation and offer something that feels bigger and more diverse but, yeah, we’re just purists for the base attraction!
Once again, we had an awesome time at Urban Death – we’re just so incredibly sad that we live as far away as we do that our visits are likely to be very limited! If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Urban Death – make every effort to go along, it’s just a fantastic piece of theatre.
Urban Death - Tour of Terror - Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre
- Mazes reduced the run time!
Whenever we're next around, and if there's a show on, we'll be there, it's that simple! Anyone reading this and living within a reasonable (or unreasonable!) distance owes it to themselves to attend a version of this show!
Price Paid: $15
Address: 4850 Lankershim Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91601