Review: An Evening of Incarcerate with Garth Marenghi at the Royal Concert Hall Nottingham

Garth Marenghi had a fantastic showcase at the Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 18th November. A brilliant mix of book reading of various tales, including his latest spine-chilling novel Incarcerat and recent epics like Randyman (say his name 17 times in front of the mirror, and maybe it will help rid you of certain sensations in your loins…) and audience participation, it has a hip Nottingham crowd of mixed generations in a consistent state of stitches. 

The character of Garth Marenghi started his life as part of an Edinburgh-conquering comedy stage show featuring creators Matthew Holness (as Marenghi – the renowned author famous for his chilling works of horror… and Stephen King style chunky 1980s specs) and the IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade. The character then seamlessly transferred to the hilarious Channel 4 show Garth Marenghi’s Darkside, with Ayoade (as Marenghi’s bizarre TV producer ally) alongside the brilliant Alice Lowe as an actress playing the most cliched of female roles in the macho world of 80’s tele, as Marenghi churns out the most turgid of extra-terrestrial and horror storylines… Giant baby-shaped eyeball child anyone? Check.                                       

Anyone familiar with Darkplace – and there are clearly many, as the Concert Hall is a near-sell out tonight – could not fail to be entertained by Marenghi’s new book Incarcerat (a sequel to TerrorTome, previously described by one critic as “a pitch-perfect parody of terrible genre writing”).  Excerpts of the thrilling novel are read brilliantly by Holness tonight in a slow, methodical, audience-patronising tone, stomping across the stage to convey every ridiculous incident and emotion as horror author Nick Steen returns to battle his own imagination and navigate a terrifying world where he is abducted and imprisoned at Nulltec – “a shadowy technological research facility with excellent conference parking” – and is observed, tested and ‘interfered with’ (physically) by a team of scientific experts led by Dr Barbara Nullman, determined to probe and ‘nullify’ his escaping imagination.  

Particularly hilarious parts of the various different book excerpts are the burning of an “old hag” who, just before she croaks, maniacally cackles like a character in the worst Hammer B-movie you’ve ever seen, as Steen and a snuff-spitting Sherriff watch on (“he’s American,” states Marenghi after reading the Sheriff’s voice in the cheesiest Southern US accent you’ve ever heard); Steen showing his complete lack of concern for a jumbo jet full of dead bodies (he’s the only survivor and the crash leaves him with telekinetic powers); and his attempts to telepathically boil an egg (it takes him over four hours, so he decides to just use a pan next time). During these ludicrous tales, Marenghi also abuses the in-house sound-person from the stage, asking him for more reverb on his microphone to give himself a scarier tone for all his am-dram wailing and howling. 

The icing on the cake is the second half – ending with a perfect Q & A with Garth Marenghi taking audience questions: “NO, NOT YOU! The man waving his arms wildly to the left of you…”, “That was a really SH*T question…” and many more brilliant improvisational responses with Holness never slipping out of character for a second, especially when the crowd picks out the plot holes in Marenghi’s abysmal storylines.                  

Just after intermission, Marenghi also has a live audition for a role in his next movie, and the two actors he plucks from the audience are great sports as he brutally castrates their performances and cheesily butts in with “he said” and “she said” to make the material sound even more awful than it is. The Nottingham crowd laps up every second and rightfully gives the auditionees a great round of applause. One guy near me especially was in fits of laughter at one point during the show, and it became contagious. Meanwhile the superbly theatrical yet monotone Matthew Holness remains deadpan and unaffected throughout by the belly-laughs.                 

With the venue a near-sell out and queues for the merch table signing afterwards being long ones – Incarcerat even has that beautifully ugly 1980s Jeffery Archer look to it’s shiny hardback cover (really, why would you want to buy it for a Kindle, people?) – Matthew Holness could have an annual goldmine on his hands. If so, it’s a deserved one, as Garth Marenghi is a fantastic cult creation.                      

Review by Lee Herring 

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