Step into the shallow crypt beneath Ed’s childhood house and witness his psyche’s corruption as he resurrects his mother’s demon and violently decimates the world around him to satiate her punitive anger. This is what Simon Shaw’s Under the Floorboards, playing in Venue 277 at Riddle’s Court, promises—or rather warns—his one-man horror show to be, and on the one hand, it delivers.
If you are searching for a threat, this is it, because the show’s warnings should not be taken lightly. It is unashamedly aggressive and freezes the audience to their chairs in fear of actual assault by its explosive headliner. Simon Shaw, who plays the obsequious, childish Ed, taps every vein with poison, and does so unapologetically.
Ed’s innocent, unassuming nature—which is so often the trademark of any killer—is realised spectacularly through a mix of different macabre, yet imaginative vignettes that harken back to Ed’s abusive, traumatic childhood. He also disappears into different scenes that he thinks of on the spot, absorbing the audience somewhat unwillingly into the deadly landscape of his mind.
This immersive exploration of Ed’s psyche, his past, and his motivations, is a fantastic dissection of the inner workings of a killer exposing Ed’s nurtured insecurity, his disciplined religious extremism, and his learned hate towards everything human. In these aspects, Under the Floorboards stands up to the long line of slashers Ed Gein’s story inspired by delving deeper into the mind of the killer.
However, this is all the show should have promised. Apart from the analysation of a killer’s mind, the show is confused by an off-track amalgam of social commentary. Choking a skeleton is precisely what you expect from Ed Gein. But with the American flag while monologuing about a metaphor likening serial killers to capitalist society? This is where Shaw’s slasher-flick horror halts abruptly and confuses itself with topics out of its range.
This satire of society makes sense through the lonely eyes of Ed Gein, yet also feels like a sermon, chastising the audience for living in a society that could let serial killers emerge. The show doesn’t quite know where the satire ends and the horror begins, which—although successful in some instances—overall presents a mismatched energy that distracts from the performance and renders it to purely shock-value.
Overall, Under the Floorboards may not be everybody’s show—especially not those under 18, with a heart condition, or squeamish in any way—yet it delivers shock, gore, a half-realised metaphor about society, and all manner of threats. See this show if you want to step into the roll of a dug-up corpse and be witness to grotesque horrors beyond imagining.
Main Image Credit: Clive Thompson