Spooky goings on down in the basement at Stanley Halls

On the eve of All Hallows’ Eve, KEN TOWL ventured off to South Norwood to encounter a weirdly life-affirming live performance

Pumpkin lanterns do little to lighten the spooky mood

Isn’t it always Hallowe’en these days?

As if the times aren’t scary enough, I was intrigued by the invitation on the Stanley Halls website to meet their “other inhabitants – the people and things that lurk in the shadows”. Croydon councillors perhaps?

It turns out that we are to expect “ghosts, ghouls, scary stories and tall tales”.

Unable to resist even the most hackneyed alliteration, we set off to explore the dark Edwardian passages of Stanley Halls.

The Stanley Halls, like the rest of London, are on high alert: we the audience are allowed to enter, masked of course, at one-metre intervals, and asked to stand – in our “bubbles” – on crosses marked on the floor.

Once assembled in one of the halls, we begin our first encounter with the “other inhabitants”. He introduces himself as the secretary of the SHMS – the Stanley Halls Murder Society, apparently – a society which turns out to be even more nefarious than the real life SNCC next door, three of whose members were arrested in November 2018 after they filmed themselves burning an effigy of Grenfell Tower.

I won’t tell you what the members of the SHMS have in common, but I would not advise you to cross any of them. Chris Rogers, as our host, appears to be just about able to stop himself from doing something that we might regret.

Dismissed from the ground floor, we wind our way upstairs to hear Rosie Edward’s hyperreal monologue as Kitty, a young woman profoundly affected by her own encounter with a ghost from her past. Just don’t look behind you. Seriously, do not look behind you.

Tales of ghouls and ghosts, atmospherically played out in the Edwardian Stanley Halls

The mute psychopath who beckons us out of the upstairs room, bubble by bubble, and into a labyrinth of corridors populated by characters from the first story, is not credited on the cast list. I only see this afterwards and a chill runs down my spine. No wonder he was so convincing…

The final story, Daghdeer, a folk tale, is proficiently delivered by Kemi Hassan, a young actor who evokes the presence of an old woman through gesture and movement and does so in the atmospheric context of a mist-filled boiler room where monsters, surely, must lurk. We get out in a hurry when told to.

The people at Stanley Halls have pulled off quite a trick using their building as such an atmospheric set for multiple dark tales, it felt like a real treat to be in the presence of live actors after so long.

If you can get a ticket, go. Tickets are selling out fast. And they are limited, for your own safety.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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