Interview: The Lampoons, House on Haunted Hill

If you think that four “professional idiots” (their words, not mine), a haunted house, lots of ping pong balls and a jar of pickles sounds like a recipe for chaos… well, you’d be right, actually.

Meet The Lampoons – also known as Tina Baston, Adam Elliott, Josh Harvey and Oliver Malam – who’ve spent the last two years sharing their own unique brand of B-movie mayhem with London audiences. Now they’re preparing to unleash the madness on Edinburgh for the very first time with House on Haunted Hill, a hilarious and utterly bonkers remake of the 1959 horror starring Vincent Price.

“We’ve only gone and brought you a debut!” says Josh. “We have lots of friends in London from our Halloween shows each year, but this will be a newborn baby idiot for us to all deliver. It could well be the most ridiculously bizarre late-night show on the fringe – a thumpingly hilarious non-stop comedy-horror the likes of which have never been seen.

Everything you see in that very sweaty hour is completely devised from Rob White and William Castle’s original black and white 1959 screenplay. Then imagine we threw that classic screenplay into a large blender with some Mighty Boosh, Monty Python, Garth Marenghi and a heavy seasoning of surreal clowning!

House on Haunted Hill is The Lampoons’ second full-length show, following the success in 2016 of their debut – another B-movie remake, Attack of the Giant Leeches, at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre. Adam explains, “We’d been friends for a long time, and big admirers of each other’s work, but had been looking for the right project to come along. At the outset of The Lampoons we really didn’t know what we were going to end up with, but we knew we wanted to explore something beyond the more commonplace comedy styles. Turns out we like the irreverent and the ridiculous!

“As for the horror spoofs: well for one, you have to love the titles! Attack of the Giant Leeches, House on Haunted Hill, who doesn’t want to see those! But also, the simple plots of that genre really allow us to pull the stories and characters every which ridiculous way whilst still maintaining some semblance of story structure. Really, we make the most faithful unfaithful adaptations you’ll ever see.”

Faithful they may be, but The Lampoons’ shows could never be accused of being predictable – a lot can, and does, happen in those 60 minutes, from dodgy fake moustaches to the weirdest ballet recital you’ll ever see. “It’s always most fun to be at the start,” says Ollie. “Coming up with the ridiculous ideas list then going through the process of learning how to implement them. One day maybe we will see Josh as a grandfather clock.”

Now they’re looking forward to bringing the show to Edinburgh, where it’ll run from 1st to 26th August at the Pleasance Dome. “I think I’m most excited about being at the centre of a wonderful casserole of creativity,” says Tina. “I think seeing other shows and meeting other creatives every day will give us so much inspiration and motivation to make people chuckle every night. Also, I’ve heard Edinburgh has great beer…”

They’re also hoping to check out a few other shows while they’re in town: “3 Years, 1 Week and a Lemon Drizzle, Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories and Stevenson Experience – they’re twins AND comedians!”

And with plenty of classics still out there waiting to be reimagined, what does the future hold for The Lampoons? “After this debut fringe festival we will likely want to reach more regional areas with our clowns,” says Josh. “And also to continue re-imagining a wonderfully awful B-movie every Halloween in London.”

Review: House on Haunted Hill at Leicester Square Theatre

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.

Photo credit: Headshot Toby

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.

Photo credit: Headshot Toby

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.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: Attack of the Giant Leeches at Etcetera Theatre

When you arrive for a show and get handed a mini water pistol, you know you’re in for an interesting evening. And it turns out that the opportunity to gleefully drench some actors is actually one of the least eccentric things about the Lampoons’ Attack of the Giant Leeches, a comedy horror for the Halloween season, which is very funny, extremely silly and above all quite, quite bonkers.

It’s the 1950s, and something bad is lurking in the Florida Everglades. When a local man claims to have seen a monster in the water, nobody believes him… but then people start disappearing, and game warden Steve Benton vows to track down the culprit. The show is a madcap homage to the 1959 “creature feature” movie of the same name, complete with low-budget props, rampant sexism and some very questionable accents.

Photo credit: Mark Neal

The Lampoons describe their style as “engaging, eccentric, and visually banterous”. I’m not even sure if banterous is a real word, but it feels appropriate nonetheless. The actors are clearly having just as much fun as the audience, bickering cheerfully amongst themselves and occasionally collapsing with a fit of the giggles. The show also enjoys sending up the style it’s imitating, with scenes of clichéd melodrama, cheesy commercials for household products, out of the blue musical numbers, and – perhaps most memorable – the moment the solitary woman breaks character to launch a furious and long overdue tirade against her patronising male co-stars.

Each of the actors (Christina Baston, Adam Elliott, Josh Harvey, Oliver Malam and Sab Muthusamy) takes on a number of stereotyped roles, among them the country yokel, the henpecked husband, the seductive blonde and – of course – the hero who saves the day, albeit with a lot of help from his considerably more intelligent girlfriend, and an unnecessary amount of time gazing dramatically into the distance. It takes skill and a well-oiled team effort to produce something that seems so completely chaotic, but this cast certainly knows how to deliver – and how to get maximum laughs while they do it.

Photo credit: Mark Neal

A word of caution: this is not a show you just sit and watch – and don’t think just because you avoided the front row that will get you off the hook (I realised this when, in my ‘safe’ second row seat, I suddenly found myself being handed a stick of dynamite made out of a Pringles can, by an expectant-looking man in a rubber dinghy). The cast throw everything into their performance, but they also feed off the audience’s reactions, and without that participation – and in some cases, severe discomfort – the show would probably fall a bit flat, so be prepared to get involved.

Don’t expect serious drama or highbrow acting from Attack of the Giant Leeches (although who would, with a title like that?), but what this show does offer is full-on entertainment with a side helping of complete mayhem. It might not give you nightmares, but it will definitely give you a surreal and hilarious night out… and who can say no to that?

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉