The North East’s very own ‘Fearground’ opened its doors for the 2021 season on 15th October, and as an avid horror fan, I headed along to see what all the fuss was about. The event is located roughly 25 minutes from Newcastle city centre by car at Lintz Hall Farm, a 600-acre site that is used to house four ‘scare houses’, alongside bars, eateries and live entertainment.
Having previously worked at, and visited, an award-winning scare attraction of a very similar vein in York, I was surprised to see that ‘Psycho-Path’ claims to be “the North’s biggest scream park”. Whilst this may stand true in terms of the size of the site, it’s certainly not indicative of the quality, calling it good in any form is pretty far-fetched!
Upon arrival at the site, we queued for approximately 10 minutes, before having our tickets scanned and entering the barn. For the most part, the decorations were pretty standard, with a few pieces of artwork dotted around and strobe lighting in blue, purple and red. At the rear of the barn was a stage, where varieties of live entertainment performed, and the centre was filled with a mixture of food trucks, bars, fairground games and merch’ stalls.
The four scare-houses, named ‘Scream’, ‘Psycho City’, ‘Isolation’ and ‘Cornered’ were located across the site, and each opened at different times. Roaming around the site were a variety of spooky street performers, and throughout our time, we encountered a clown on stilts, a circus ring-master, a doctor and an infected patient.
Whilst the general atmosphere of the event was an ecstatic buzz of excited punters, there were many problems left to find within, that extended beyond the reinforcement of the derogatory use of mental health terminology. I don’t doubt the organisers think that ‘Psycho-Path’ is an ingenious pun, but surely I can’t be the only one cringing at the sound of it?
I must preface the rest of this review by saying that I went into this event in the mindset of an actor. Having performed at another scare attraction, I am pretty aware of how this kind of thing works, and quite frankly was not expecting to be scared at all.
Within the scare houses, the actor-runs (areas closed off to the public that allow for actors to move around the allocated space without being seen), were not very secret. Because of this, it was pretty easy to see when an actor was about to embark on a jump scare, and so these were anticipated - though, I don’t know if this would have been so obvious for someone who didn’t know that these actor-runs exist. I have to give credit to the actors, who both seemed to be enjoying themselves and also had convincing mannerisms of the characters they were portraying.
Another credit to be acknowledged is the concept of the house ‘Isolation’, and as the name might suggest, you were left to walk through the maze all alone. Having entered one of four doors, I walked through a shallow, narrow tunnel in the pitch black, at which point the fear did kick in a little! I was greeted by a couple of characters on my way, one dressed in a rabbit mask, and the other (from what I was able to see) wearing a World War Two-style gas mask. The first character I encountered demanded that I sing him a Disney song, and in the spirit of the event, I performed a pretty awful rendition of You’ve Got a Friend in Me, while trying not to piss myself laughing! Despite the enthusiasm of the actors, there was no narrative in any of their roles, and I don’t believe they added anything to the experience of ‘Isolation’ - which I believe was intended to create a psychological scare.
Sadly, I believe that the successes of the event are most certainly outweighed by the anxiety I felt throughout my whole experience.
On the ‘Psycho-Path’ website’s FAQ section, it states: “There will be some touching and contact from our trained scare performers”, but assault is something I did not expect to be enduring at this event!
I had noticed that one of the street performers was touching the hair and clothes of some of the punters, which from the start was a big red flag for me. During my three seasons as a scare performer - one of which I spent on the Street Team - the number one rule as an actor was ‘DO NOT TOUCH!’. In any form of live entertainment, touching a punter can not only lead to a huge number of issues, including assault allegations; but is also a sign of a weak performance. If the only way you can scare someone is through grabbing their legs, then you aren’t doing a good job at all!
Despite saying the words “I can’t believe they’re touching people” a fair few times, I’m still not sure how I feel about it…Some people are just poor actors, and cannot give a convincing performance, but where I draw the line is at physical assault!
Sadly I believe that the successes of the event are most certainly outweighed by the anxiety I felt throughout my whole experience.
As we were in the queue for ‘Isolation’, I was approached by one of the street performers. A circus-leader, not much taller than me, and wearing a long cloak, with slicked-back, black hair, met my gaze. He stood there for about 30 seconds, holding his gaze before I said “all of this deep eye contact will make me fall in love”, and then laughed. Unfortunately he proceeded to grab my neck, at first, the grip was loose, but he squeezed and tightened it a little essentially strangling me!
My first thought at this point was: ‘what would have happened if I had been triggered in some way by this action?’. Equally, on the leaflet given out when you first enter the site it states that anyone who fails to comply with the rule “Do not touch the performers” could be “ejected from the venue”. Now, in my eyes, if someone grabs me by the neck, I’m going to feel threatened by this and react by possibly touching them to push them away from me. If it hadn’t been for my prior knowledge of these attractions, my response may not have been as calm as it was. Despite the website stating that I should expect some contact from the performers, I believe it was valid for me to believe this would be a small tap on the shoulder, not someone’s hand around my neck!
As with any event, a punter pays to have a good time. I do not pay £30 per ticket to be left to question the morals and ethics of the company that I am giving business to. To any scare enthusiasts wanting to experience a scare attraction in 2022, I honestly believe that taking the time to travel to a site elsewhere in the country would provide you with a much better experience for the same price!