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R.L. Stine's 'Goosebumps' Leaps From Page to Immersive Theater

Tunnels beneath London play host to nostalgia, creepy clowns, and macabre tales in 'Goosebumps: Alive.'

Photo: Alice Pepperell

If you were one of those kids who liked a bit of horror fiction before bedtime, you no doubt enjoyed R.L. Stine's Goosebumps. It's now made the leap from the page to the immersive theater in a production set in The Vaults, a network of underground Victorian tunnels beneath a London train station that's now an arts space/immersive theater haven.

Although the books were for kids, the show, Goosebumps: Alive, is aimed at adults (there's a kids version, too) and is adapted from the books by Tom Salamon, Rob Watt and Gabriel Greene, and directed by Salamon (Watt directs the kids' one). It uses nine stories from the books, including Stay Out Of The Basement, Night Of The Living Dummy, and Say Cheese And Die!, reinterpreted with some modern additions—sinister iPhones, asshole boyfriends in skinny jeans—plus plenty of creepy clowns (if you have a phobia of creepy clowns or circus aesthetics, this production is going to really mess you up). British band The Tiger Lillies will also be playing live intermittently throughout the run.


"We wanted the audience to be nostalgic, but also surprised," says Salamon. "Our approach was to take the backbone of Stine's iconic tales—scary, funny, with a twist—and reimagine them using their unforgettable elements as a launching pad for a new interpretation."

Photo: Alice Pepperell When you arrive, you're given a card with a picture—snake, rat, spider, or crow—before being shown into a bar area. Everyone's sitting around chatting and drinking when, all of a sudden, a guy starts freaking out among the crowd, ranting and raving about his nightmares and visions. And so it begins.

Everyone's then split into small groups depending on their cards, and instructed to follow a character with a sack on their head, a bit like the creepy kid in 2007 horror The Orphanage—horror references abound—and you get to experience about four of the nine tales. Different groups are led down different passageways and tunnels and different episodic narratives are played out to them.

Photo: Alice Pepperell There are a couple of genuinely scary moments among the stories. One involves being stuck in an elevator, the other, in a cramped tunnel. I was in the back of my group, hearing a scraping shovel get nearer and nearer until… Well, you'll have to find out.

But the real standout is the production design and costumes, which are all intricately realized by production designer Samuel Wyer—he also did the Alice's Adventures Underground immersive play that was performed in the same subterranean tunnels—and Secret Cinema's Susan Kulkarni, who does the costumes.


Photo: Alice Pepperell

There are giant puppets, scarecrows with horribly long arms, fanciful shop fronts straight from your childhood filmic memory bank, eerie circuses, and animatronic monstrosities—giving it all a feel of the grotesque, with a more than a bit of Tim Burton thrown in for good measure.

It all adds up to a night of fun more than terror, and it works best when the immersion comes from the people you're with. If they're running scared and screaming, their contagion adds to your suspension of disbelief. It's a little bit like being led through a carnivalesque PG version of Tales of the Crypt, just with more clowns.

Photo: Alice Pepperell

Photo: Alice Pepperell

Goosebumps: Alive is at The Vaults in Waterloo from now until September 4, 2016. See the Goosebumps: Alive website for more info.


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