The Vaults, London Waterloo
By Hannah Nepil
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled for choice when it comes to immersive theatre: with groups like Punchdrunk leading the way, competitors look amateurish by comparison. Perhaps what would have impressed five years ago feels unoriginal by today’s standards. Or perhaps the problem is simpler than that: Goosebumps Alive, which opened last week, is underwhelming.
Samuel Wyer, the designer who brought us Alice’s Adventures Underground last year, has reheated the same basic ingredients by adapting another popular children’s work for an adult audience, and spreading it, once again, through Waterloo’s vaults. It had potential. After all, the 90s children’s horror fiction series by RL Stine feels at home in this labyrinth of spooky underground tunnels. And Wyer, together with writer and director Tom Salamon, has certainly chucked enough at it, leading us through what feels like endless sets and sketches. We encounter a bewitched typewriter; a clock that drags its owner back in time. We see an impressive amount of visual detail, including a fully stocked laboratory complete with a crazed resident botanist. We even get an appearance from The Tiger Lillies, that band of face-painted ‘street opera’ musicians, who infuse the show with their Brechtian brand of menace.
For all that, though, we get no sense of real immersion. Like Alice, last year, it’s a case of plot without suspense or suspense without plot. In one simplistic exercise we’re trapped in a darkened lift for what feels like an eternity, then released. It’s terrifying, but is it theatre? The sketches feel too disconnected and often outstay their welcome. The shamelessly hammy acting prevents us from suspending our disbelief, as does Salamon’s clunky, cliché-ridden script. Perhaps the clue was in the title. As a series of children’s books, and later a TV phenomenon, Goosebumps was never known for its subtlety. Still, a good adaptation would have capitalised more on its virtues. Instead this empty spectacle exaggerates its flaws.