Adventurer beware, you’re in for a scare…
I briefly mentioned a few weeks back how much I loved the Goosebumps Alive experience down in The Vaults by Waterloo station and how big a part Goosebumps played in my childhood – so when Yelp got in touch asking if I wanted to come along and explore backstage with them and take some photos for their community blog, my tiny mind exploded a little. Seriously. BACKSTAGE!
I took the wonderful AJ along for the ride, who was pretty amazing despite being terrified! As I knew what to expect, I wasn’t too bad – but still had an amazing time seeing the show again. At the beginning when you arrive, you’re given a card with one of four symbols – which determines the route you take. With all cards following a slightly different route, the order and even the rooms you visit will differ slightly.
After taking in my second viewing of the show (in which I encountered a couple of different rooms I didn’t see on my original visit, which was pretty cool), it was time for a creep backstage, led by the show’s producer, Kieran Vanstone. As the audience is split into smaller groups per session, and with shows starting every half hour, it’s a bit of a military operation to make sure everything runs smoothly, with a lot of the scenes set on a timer and repeating. I also found out that actors can perform in the short scenes up to 22 times per night, which is some pretty impressive stamina!
The creepiness of the Vaults definitely already set a baseline for the show – and corridors and pathways were used to the max. Each of the seventeen rooms featured different tales, with sets masterminded by designer Samuel Wyer, who’s done an amazing job of creating sinister scenery that brings the performances to life. While I’m on the subject of the talented team behind the show, a big shout-out goes to punk group The Tiger Lilies, who managed to create an impressive and eerie score to soundtrack the whole experience.
The very first story I encountered on my first Goosebumps visit was based on the second story in the series – The Cuckoo Clock Of Doom. Although the whole show is based on the original stories, there’s definitely a lot of interpretation involved – with tales brought straight into the modern world. We’re talking iPhones replacing the camera in Say Cheese And Die, with lads down the pub rather than kids in their all-American suburban world. In the Cuckoo Clock section, we encounter a chirpy fellow who spends his last cash on an antique clock – and discovers it’s something a bit special.
As well as the scares, there’s also some pretty comic moments to break the tension – including the very much amended version of The Blob That Ate Everyone. A story about a magic typewriter that brings to life whatever’s written, and what it’s owner and his friends decide to do with it. Probably some of the same things I’d do, to be fair. Although, the unnerving end to the story has definitely put me off typewriter shopping.
I saw this story twice, and noticed a few subtle changes to the dialogue – on asking Kieran, I found out that although the script is quite tight, some of the actors do go in for a bit of ad-libbing.
Perhaps one of the best known Goosebumps tales had one of the most elaborate sets – Stay Out Of The Basement’s tale follows a young couple, Amy and Rob, living together for the first time. However, Rob has a big secret hiding under the basement floorboards. I really appreciated the levels of detail that went into the sets – the ingenious stacked boxes to mark Amy moving into the flat, worn table and pots and pans all went a long way in creating an immersive place to tell the story in. Even though some of the acting was pretty hammy in this one, I felt like it was purposeful – instead of forcing fear, it was a quirky and entertaining retelling.
AHHH. Slappy. SUCH CREEPY.
This setup is from the Horror Land style scenes, which start out with the freaked-out bloke from the bar that you first encounter making a second appearance and lead into an unnerving carnival performance from a horned villain. Definitely one of the creepiest characters we encountered, definite praise goes to Susan Kulkarni (the woman behind Secret Cinema’s costume design) for her creations with this scene.
There’s also some audience participation to be had. Just beware of getting it wrong…
Probably the most impressive set was actually the only room I think I didn’t see the show for. In case you hadn’t guessed already, these are some snaps from the set for Scarecrow Walks At Midnight. It’s actually one of my fave Goosebumps stories so I’m a bit gutted I missed it both times – but being able to walk around the set and peek around the ‘cornfields’ kinda made up for that.
The final scenes in the show are set in a stark contrast to the detailed sets of the other stories. Using just one of the vaults, aided by some smoke and clever lighting, nightmares are truly brought to life in a surreal sensory experience. It was probably the one room that STILL gave me the creeps even as part of the backstage tour!
Although it’s received a mixed critical reception, for me, Goosebumps Alive is probably the best theatre show I’ve seen in a hella long time (and I’ve seen Book of Mormon this year…), and one of my favourite London experiences overall to date. It manages to perfectly mix scares with laughs and a healthy dose of giddy nostalgia, creating a tension-filled atmosphere where you never know what’s coming along next.
Goosebumps Alive is showing at The Vaults until Sunday 5th June, with tickets from £32.