You know you’re in for an interesting evening at the theatre when you’re greeted by a man in a biohazard suit handing out ping pong balls. For those who saw the Lampoons’ last show, Attack of the Giant Leeches, this will come as no surprise. For those who didn’t, get ready for quite the experience, as the team return with their latest production, House on Haunted Hill. Based (incredibly loosely, one suspects) on the 1959 Vincent Price movie of the same name, it features a special guest appearance from “Vincent Price” himself, complete with questionable moustache and wildly fluctuating accent.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around four unsuspecting guests invited by Mr Price to stay the night in a haunted house. If they make it through, they’ll win $10,000 – which we’re reminded in the programme was a lot of money back then. Cue severed heads in suitcases, blood dripping from the ceiling, and a balaclava ballet band performing Swan Lake (what do you mean, that wasn’t in the movie?).
It very quickly becomes clear – if the ping pong balls didn’t already make the point – that this is not a show we’re supposed to take seriously, or even really understand; I’m none the wiser as to what actually happens in the film. Despite the name, it’s not very scary – but it is extremely silly, and who doesn’t love a bit of silliness every now and again?
Responsible for all this mayhem is a cast of very funny actors – Adam Elliott, Oliver Malam, Christina Baston and Josh Harvey (and guests) – who don’t mind making complete fools of themselves or potentially getting hurt and/or choking on a pickle. (This is particularly entertaining when you’ve seen two of them before in very serious plays…) Anyone who enjoys the antics of Mischief Theatre will recognise the same talent here for making chaos look effortless. The Lampoons operate on a significantly smaller budget, but they don’t let that stop them; quite the opposite – they embrace their limitations and turn them to their advantage, with hilariously dodgy effects, props and accessories that are just one more source of laughs. After a while it becomes hard to tell what’s planned and what just sort of happens, but the cast take it all in their stride, with just the occasional mid-scene fit of helpless giggles. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say front row beware, it’s worth knowing that audience participation is enthusiastically encouraged and responded to by the actors.
As a result, it should come as no surprise that we frequently meander away entirely from the plot – though in some cases this is (again, quite deliberately and openly) just a ploy to keep us occupied while someone gets changed for the next scene. If you like to follow everything that’s going on, this may not be the show for you. If, on the other hand, you quite like not having a clue what might happen next, you’ll love it. And if you’re a fan of Vincent Price movies… well, you might just be a bit confused.
House on Haunted Hill is at Leicester Square Theatre until 11th November.