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Photo gallery: PrimEVIL live scare attraction returns to Norfolk for Halloween

12:35 17 October 2014

Staff at the Dinosaur Park prepare for the Primevil event. Photo: Bill Smith

Staff at the Dinosaur Park prepare for the Primevil event. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

At one of the region’s favourite family attractions, October is set to become Shocktober as Dinosaur Adventure is transformed into the east of England’s biggest live scare attraction, PrimEVIL. STACIA BRIGGS joined the cast to discover how to be scary.

If you go down to the woods today (or, to be precise, after October 23) you’re sure of a big surprise.

By day, Dinosaur Adventure at Lenwade just outside Norwich is a child-friendly family attraction where the biggest scares on offer come from the roaring dinosaurs in the woods. But at the end of every October, the park is transformed after dark into the stuff of nightmares.

Maniacal clowns with sharp teeth and cannibals roam the woods, the horrific results of a failed experimental pathogen can be found wandering inside an abandoned laboratory and there’s a dreadfully unsuccessful Nightmare Clinic designed to help visitors banish their bad dreams.

PrimeEVIL is in its fifth year as a dedicated ‘live scare attraction’ and has established itself as the biggest event of its kind in the region, offering brave visitors the chance to be scared witless in five different scenarios including a pitch-black cottage that visitors must grope their way around, woodland infested with scare actors and a terrifying clinic full of the dispossessed.

Staff at the Dinosaur Park prepare for the Primevil event. Photo: Bill SmithStaff at the Dinosaur Park prepare for the Primevil event. Photo: Bill Smith

In America, the concept of live scare attractions such as PrimEVIL at Dinosaur Adventure is nothing new, but in Britain the craze has only recently started to catch on as increasing numbers of people line up to feel the fear.

Across the pond, Halloween is huge business with more than 2,000 commercial ‘haunted houses’ and 1,000 Halloween attractions across the US and ticket sales that soar over the £500 million mark. People know their frights and they’re increasingly prepared to dig deep in order to get them.

As in America, the so-called scare attractions aren’t actually haunted and don’t claim to be – what they are is a series of horror film-style scenarios through which the brave walk while actors dressed as vampires or ghosts or zombies or mutants (insert a monster here) attempt to scare the living daylights out of them.

Office workers, waiters, students – all are transformed into nightmarish creatures for just over a week following months of training, dress rehearsals and costume fittings. Each scare actor is given their own character and must stay in it during opening hours – even if they’re walking to the toilet.

Staff at the Dinosaur Park prepare for the Primevil event. Photo: Bill SmithStaff at the Dinosaur Park prepare for the Primevil event. Photo: Bill Smith

“There’s no ‘off-duty’ when you’re a scare actor and the visitors are walking around the attraction!” laughed Martin Goymour, who by day is managing director of Dinosaur Adventure and by October night is one of the scare actors himself.

“My character’s name is Skullmore – I’ve been a Victorian, a Swiss estate agent and a professor. I love it. I spend 51 weeks of the year being charming and sensible and one week of the year scaring people witless!”

“What we do is make people feel scared in the context of safety. It’s the chance to feel out of control while knowing at all times that actually you are in control and that nothing bad is going to happen to you.

“The scary part of what we do is the unpredictability. No one knows exactly what’s going to happen as they walk through the woods and that’s what makes it scary – we provide the setting but it’s people’s imaginations that provide the real fear.”

Eight years ago, the attraction ran a child-friendly Halloween event in the woods – while young children can still enjoy age-appropriate fun during daylight hours, the park is transformed after dark into a very different kind of proposition.

Mr Goymour has travelled across the globe to visit other scare attractions to research frighteningly good ways to terrify the paying public.

Joining him will be 70 scare actors prowling in the woods and buildings at Lenwade from October 24 to November 1, most of whom will be attached to one of the five scare attractions and some of whom will be street performers, scaring the queuing crowds.

There will also be the chance to take a night-time trip down the zipwire on the Deathly Gallows or enjoy a fireworks display on November 1.

“We realised very quickly that there was a huge market for adults who really want to be scared. For a few years, we ran the two events in tandem – activities for younger children and for adults, but this year the whole night-time attraction will be a 12A. So it will be scary!” explained Mr Goymour.

“This year, we brought in an expert scare actor to help our cast really get into their roles and get the most out of the experience. Every year we have 10,000 visitors to PrimEVIL so it’s a massive operation – and a lot of people to scare!”

Rosie Redvers-Jones is a specialised scare actor trainer and is currently undertaking a Masters Degree in Making Performance which involves further research into the dark art of (enjoyably) scaring people to the point where their fear eventually turns to laughter.

Her specially-designed Fright Form Scare Performance System was created as a method of training scare actors, particularly those who work in horror mazes, and involves teaching a set of physicalities and scare personas that actors can deploy in the field (or the wood, or the nightmare clinic, or the toxic laboratory).

At Dinosaur Adventure, she led scare actors through a range of personas that ranged from creeping predator to motionless statue, dehumanised creature to limb-scraping zombie: “The only real key to being scary is to really, really go for it,” explained Rosie, who graduated from Edge Hill University with a first-class drama degree and now teaches scare actor techniques.

“When you come to places like this (the Dinosaur Park’s Primevil) you know that there’s going to be a fantastic set-up and that the people who come here want to be scared. This is good and bad for an actor because when people are expecting to be scared, they can sometimes be ready for what’s coming which ruins the suspense.

“Our job as a scare actor is to scare everyone – the people who think they know what’s coming and the ones who have no idea whatsoever. We try and teach people to be adaptable and versatile so they can keep their energy levels high and keep their character in mind at all time.”

Having taken the Primevil cast on a rollercoaster ride through some classic scare techniques – influences range from Michael Chekov to John Wright’s mask workshops – and having shown her skills as a quite terrifying monster, it comes as a surprise to hear that Rosie herself is a bit of a scaredy-cat.

“If I was here when the actors were in the woods trying to scare me, I’d be the one screaming and running away!” she laughed.

“I have to go to quite a few of these scare attractions for research purposes and I think I’m one of the most easily scared people there. Even though I know what’s coming, even though I know the techniques, I’m caught out every time.

“Maybe I allow myself to be scared because I know I love the laugh afterwards. I see scare acting as a new performance style and one that is really rewarding to be part of and to teach. People have always told ghost stories, they’ve always loved to be scared and events like this help them do that in a safe way.”

Scare acting is a very different form of performance, especially as the actors are often in extremely challenging environments – they may find themselves performing in darkness, in claustrophobic conditions, in rooms with strobe lighting and heavy fog and in constant loud noise.

Returning scare actor Chris Stone, however, loves it all.

“There are lots of different techniques that you use as a scare actor from being completely silent and staring at people to following them around and screaming and shouting at them. Our aim is to scare people, but in a way that makes them laugh,” he said. “It’s funny to watch people’s reactions. Sometimes the least likely people are the ones who are the most frightened and it’s the people who look scared who can take anything you throw at them! People try not to embarrass themselves in front of their mates, but they often run off screaming!”

Chris has been acting since 1993 and is part of The Norwich Zombie Project: “I love horror movies and I really enjoy scaring people and making people jump and so working at PrimEVIL is a fantastic job. As soon as you’re in the costume and you’re out in the dark, you become your character. And that’s when things get scary – for other people!”

PrimEVIL is at Dinosaur Adventure, Lenwade, from October 24 to November 1. There is a 12A advisory age limit. Tickets cost from £15.95 from www.primevil-scare.com.

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