This was the title of the scariest TV-show I’ve ever watched as a kid. A group of kids hanging around this campfire out in the woods telling scary stories, and then putting out the fire by throwing a handful of sand on it. The show gave me nightmares for years, and now I have been re-experiencing that frightening feeling that used to scare the heck out of us all growing up. Sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite? Yeah, right.
Now as an adult, the TV-show is quite ridiculous and not at all scary, but how could you possibly know that the vampires and zombies pictured on the screen weren’t real? I certainly didn’t. You kind of knew, but you couldn’t be completely sure. And you didn’t know what could happen next. That particular feeling was present at Claire de Wangen’s production Monstermuskelen (Monstermuscle) this evening.
The performance was located in an old office building in Ensjø, Oslo, and started out with an bald woman draped in a cloak told us to never close our eyes. Never. And then she pointed out the first chosen ones to take the elevator downstairs with her. Inside the elevator we were offered a “Kamferdrops” each, and no one dared to turn the offer down. You just do as everyone else does, and you do what you’re being told. The ultimate method to survive.
In the basement, we meet a woman who’s ironing white blankets and see a whole room filled with the blankets. You know, a lot of white blankets left to dry in the wind that’s too easy to hide behind – a classic horror film trick. Then we were told to get inside our own dressing room, leave our own clothes and belongings behind and get in the pyjamas and put the slippers on. With everyone dressed in pyjamas, we got to choose our own bed in a large, smoke-filled room. Thirty beds in a row with small night tables and lamps right next to them. The blankets now served as a wall behind my head.
It’s kind of comfortable just lying there under your own warm, duvet in this gloomy environment. I could easily have fallen asleep, and this is not at all as creepy as I thought it would be. Until they turned off the light, that is. Oh, god, has my heart always beated this fast? What’s that sound?? Ah, it’s the bald woman sneaking around with long feathers in her hands. Nothing to worry about. Carry on.
During the performance, we get to meet a little girl, a man, a woman with a pearl necklace alongside the bald woman in the cloak and the ironing woman in various settings and sequences. The ironing woman that welcomed us in the beginning of the performance is touching our legs while we’re lying helplessly in bed. Friendly at first, and then she squeezes a bit more than friendly. The bald woman seemed to appear from nothing (my heart nearly stopped for a second, I swear), and tucked us further in. The man has to desperately hide the girl, and puts her into a random bed with one of the spectators. The woman also occupies a bed during the performance, and at one moment, the actors climb over each bed looking us intensely in the eyes. Suddenly, the little girl is standing next to me, wearing a mask shaped like an old man’s face. It doesn’t get much moore creepier than children with masks, but then I realised the child actually looked excactly like an old guy at work – what a coincidence!
There’s not much dialogue between the actors, but there are sequences were they interact with each other. The woman with the pearl necklace and the man “fights” in a choreographed way with headlights on top of their heads, and they also have this zombie-like maneuver hauling around the room combined with wheezing sounds. I’m glad I’ve been binge wathcing Downton Abbey lately, and not The Walking Dead.
The performance ends with the little girl pointing out spectators while eating chips. Our guide this evening, the guy responsible for checking tickets, whispers to each and one of us that we have to get up and out of our beds. Is it over now? On our way out to the dressing room, we see the man and the bald woman lying deadlike on the floor. What happened to them? You don’t get much time to think this over, as you have to get out of you pyjamas and get out of the building. On our way out the door, the woman with the pearl necklace sits with her eyes wide open and stare at us as we’re passing by. Her eyes are covered with white lenses with the pupil shaped as a narrow line.
In Monstermuskelen there are a lot of classic sound and lightning effects to creep you out. Rumbling thunder, stormy rain, barking dogs, muffling sounds and of course gloomy light followed by what we fear most: Darkness. You get the feeling you got as a kid tucked in for the night, you cannot sleep because there’s too much going on. You can feel it in your stomach, the monster muscle.
Space invading performance
Claire de Wangen Productions presents itself as space invading performance. The performances are site-specific, and examines what occurs in the relationship with the actors and spectators in a non-traditional theatre environment. It also explores the physical interaction between them, and definitely breaks the fourth wall, invading the spaces of the spectators. It’s postdramatic, as it tends to focus more on the atmosphere created rather than the words spoken.
So, what did happen in the interaction between the actors and spectators? The spectators are very polite, and we all do as we’re being told. We’re first and foremost insecure of what’s going to happen next, and this causes a silent interaction amongst the spectators, not particularly with the actors. We’re in this together, as we look at each other during the performance, with our noses barely over the duvets. We don’t speak, we just communicate through our bodys.
Even though the performance is space invading, you remain a spectator, you don’t have to act (thank heavens!), you just interact without words. In the vein of postdramatic theatre, it’s up to you what you emphasise in the performance. There’s no right or wrong, it’s the meaning you bring into it that matters.
As a horror fan, I love to be scared. And I absolutely loved the theme, the surroundings and the creepy atmosphere. Aesthetically, it’s right up my alley. My only objection is that it could have been even more creepier, but I guess there’s a thin line between creepy and scare the hell out of the audience.
All photos by: dewangen-produksjoner/Photos: Morten Bendiksen