Horror fans after a dose of lo-fi shock theatre could do worse than check out the lurid, violent world of Sarah Knittel. Billed as a ‘brutal clown show’, Nightmare Fuel is a loving homage to sleazy cinema that doubles as intense personal catharsis. It’s dark and demented, while also being charmingly ramshackle in its shoestring construction. At its centre is the wide-eyed, unpredictable Knittel, daring you to take your eyes off her.
It’s clear that given a higher budget Knittel would love to take Nightmare Fuel and update the traditional Grand Guignol experience to fit that 80’s slasher vibe she obviously loves so much. However, she achieves a great deal on the small scale she’s working with, using simple props to augment her limber mimes and profane monologues. She’s effective at conjuring a scene from scratch, and those who are acquainted with the genres she references will have no trouble in recognising the tropes and scenarios she presents.
Not only is it in turns disconcerting and entertaining on a surface level, but works as an allegory for an abusive, gas-lighting relationship without bashing the crowd over the head with a hectoring sermon. In fact Knittel tackles the subject in the most silly, juvenile way possible and its refreshing to see this level of absurdity used to make a serious point. Bodily fluids are hurled around, insults yelled and Knittel prowls and howls around the stage adopting and throwing off personas like costumes; and the the killing of a monster works rather well as a metaphor for escaping a controlling ex. It has to be said that her aggressive interaction with the crowd occasionally borders on the inappropriate itself however, particularly one moment where she tries to thrust her fingers into the mouth of some luckless lady. It’s possible that this may have been a friend stoically helping out, otherwise Knittel is rivalling Natalie Palamides in the uncomfortable crowd work stakes.
That dodgy ground aside, Nightmare Fuel is one of those quintessential, niche Fringe experiences. A show where you turn to your companions after and say, “Well, that was different.” Given the healthy attendance in the Newsroom basement, it does seem to be finding its audience, which is great as this is the kind of singular, passionate show that should be what the Fringe is all about.