Nightmare Fuel: Incredibly Fringey

Nightmare Fuel was just one of those happy coincidences: where I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was just sitting down with a friend, having a coffee and trying to figure out what to see next, when somebody handed me a flyer for an, and I quote, ‘brutal clown show’. Obviously, that sounded fucking awesome, and we needed to go. So, coffees downed, two hours and at least five pints later we found ourselves in the basement of The Newsroom, waiting for whatever was going to happen.

What did, eventually transpire in that room is sort of indescribable. Nightmare Fuel is an odd, acid-tripping 80’s fantasy that drifts along on its own skewed dream logic. In order to restore some sort of excitement to our lives, which apparently translates to something along the lines of being obsessed with breasts (or suchlike: there was some logic here but to be honest this whole show feels like it never happened and I just hallucinated it), Sarah Knittel will perform a ritual. Under the watchful gaze of Scully from the X-Files, that ritual involves her being possessed by a sexualised cheerleader in a slasher movie, a perverted, misogynistic Rockstar, and giving birth to a demon. Wahay.

Along the way, a sort-of narrative emerges. Knittel has been forcibly possessed by this hedonistic Rockstar type, and we must help her to become un-possessed. Because? Because. This involves, primarily, a lot of semen. Enough said about that – if you want to find out how to un-possess someone, go see the show.

Nightmare Fuel is both a comedy show and a clown show. It’s a slice of shock (and schlock) theatre with a lurid, gory plot that far extends its budgetary reach – one imagines on purpose. There’s a certain charm that shines even through all the profanity and sex – perhaps it’s the nostalgic glow that throwback productions like It and Stranger Things have channeled. And, indeed, there are some moments of seriousness that shine through even amid the camp chaos. It helps that it’s all hilarious in a sort of ‘what the actual fuck is going on’ kind of way – even though the audience was small, there was pretty much constant laughter for the hour-long runtime. Knittel doesn’t seem to have particularly great ‘clowning’ skills – but, again, this appears to be sort of the point: a lo-fi, ironic, barnstorming look at the creative output of the 80s. 

There are some problems that have nothing to do with the show itself. It’s at 6:15pm, but it’s not a 6:15pm show. It’s a 10pm show at least; preferably 11 or 12. It’s also in The Newsroom. For your information, The Newsroom is a pretty awful venue that’s miles away from the rest of the Fringe. This is not a Newsroom show. It’s a Free Sisters, or Espionage show. Fuck it, it’s good enough to be a paid show – and it has enough USP power to draw in the crowds night after night. Dare I say, it has enough energetic idiosyncrasy to become a cult hit?

Honestly, Nightmare Fuel is one of the Fringiest experiences you can have at the Fringe – a reminder that, when Comedy Boxing/Comedy Drumming/Comedy Roast Battle/Comedy Rap Battle/Comedy Battle compilation free shows get too much (they do), you’re at a Festival with the most fantastic, joyously anarchic and shockingly unique performers in the world. It may be on the other side of town, but it’s worth the trek. Those petrified of audience interaction should be warned, however: the things expected of attendees to this show extend far beyond what’s usually asked of front-row punters.


James is an undergraduate law student at UCL, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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