Vampires and Sea-Monsters: A Menagerie of….Horror?

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Hello blog reader(s). I have for you here two “meh” reviews of two “meh” plays. I hope you enjoy.

Halloween, Halloween.

Usually, I would be out galavanting around in a costume (any excuse to dress up), but this year I took a slightly more mature and cultured approach and visited the Barbican theatre to see the Polish play Nosferatu. Directed by TR Warszawa, Nosferatu is a re-imagining of Bram Stoker’s famous novel Dracula. The play itself is performed fully in Polish, using subtitles for us non-Polish speaking viewers. Now, I’m all for ‘foreign’ pieces – I love foreign films – but the difference with a film and a play, I found, is the placing of subtitles. For example, whilst watching a foreign film, the subtitles are always there right in front of you; you’re only looking at one place. The difference with a play is that, naturally, the stage is a hell of a lot bigger. Nosferatu’s subtitles were displayed in two different places – on a screen suspended above the centre of the stage, and then projected a couple of metres further upstage. I’m not entirely sure why they decided to screen the subtitles in two different, albeit very close together, locations, but hey, I’m sure it was a strategic directorial decision… Also, whoever was in charge of the subtitles should get a smacked botty. I understand that timing would be difficult, but the subtitles seemed to lag behind something tragic. Amidst heated conversation, it was ridiculously hard to follow who was saying what. The set also looked like something out of a Sims game – where the living room meets the bedroom. This wasn’t particularly bad, as I can understand why they did this for theatrical convenience, but I’ve had the urge to play Sims all week now…

The play itself was so-so. For the most part, I couldn’t keep my eyes of the actor who plays Lucy’s lustful legs, which were all over the place. What was quite amusing was about midway through the nigh-two hour performance, when an autopsy is performed on Lucy. She lays stark naked for all of the world to see, though whether it was actually the actress or a mannequin remains a mystery – we were too far back to differentiate. The amusement came when I noticed a good 75% of the males in the audience slyly leaning forward for a better view at (possibly) wax-work breasts. The storyline itself didn’t seem to follow Dracula, aside from some of the character names and the fact that there were vampires. I think towards the end it turned out that Van Helsing was actually working for the unnamed Count the whole time? Lighting and sound was…ok. here were some cool bone quenching sound effects when the vampires bit into their victims necks, and ambient crow and thunder sounds to set the mood, but a few times, some of the cast seemed to forget that they had their mics on them and accidentally squashed them, and what would follow was an array of various KWEEEESH sounds. So that was fun. Furthermore, the scene transitions were awful. Essentially, a GCSE-style blackout meets EVERYONE RUN ON STAGE AND MOVE PROPS!!! Again, I could probably look past this, but it just seemed a little unprofessional.

Lastly, as they bowed, they cast looked bloody miserable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone enjoy their own performance less. That’s saying something, surely?

On to the next one then…

The following night I saw Drowning Rock at the Camden People’s Theatre. This piece was directed by Matthew Wood and inspired by HP Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. One of the key taglines of the piece boasted about how it was a mixture between Jaws and Woman in Black. It was neither of these. The play was not scary, not at all. There were some slightly ominous moments, yes, and some of the sound effects they used were quite sudden, but all they served to do was wake me up as I fell asleep. The only vaguely scary part was when a sea-monster jumped out from the darkness, but when the lights came up it didn’t look like anything more than a Scooby-Doo villain. I was half expecting one of the cast members to go “now let’s see who you really are!” I don’t know what their budget was like. There was an authentic diving outfit which was pretty cool, so I expect it was blown on that, seeing as at one point they were using ropes to substitute for fish. At one point, for example, one of the characters began whacking bits of rope on a rostra block. I just assumed that that was some weird fisherman (the character was a fisherman) trait – way beyond my meagre understanding of the sport of fishing. But no, those bits of rope were supposed to be fish. The piece used a lot of projection to show the audience old-timey photos of the characters’ past. Instead of projecting these images onto a white wall, or even a white screen, they used tarpaulin taken from Grandad’s shed. Yes, it did add to the lighthousey-fishing ship atmosphere, and I guess that tarpaulin is very cheap, but the creased sheet really did nothing for the quality of the photos.

Acting wise, the piece was alright. There was one character who was very underwhelming, but I have no quarrel with the others. One problem though was their use of mime. I’ve already established that, I assume, their budget was quite low, so I’m ignoring the fact that they were miming as a whole – no, my argument is with the quality of the mime, particularly when the characters opened the lighthouse…gate? I assume it was a gate. One character went over it. One went through it. One probably went under it. It was a bit like a scene from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. The play also used a variety of blackouts between scenes, like Nosferatu. However when they moved their big rostra block, you could often hear it scraping on the ground. Just a little criticism. Oh, one more thing: they used a red-wash at the end. Yeah.

All in all, both plays were major lackluster…at least, I thought they were.

I find naturalistic acting generally hard to enjoy at the best of times; I hate it when plays sound scripted. There are those like Wilde, Beckett. Shakespeare (arguably) etc. who cleverly avoid this, but a lot of scripts fail, I find. For me, a good naturalistic script incorporates authentic speech. When done correctly, a naturalistic script can be outstanding. Otherwise, I find it a bit….unbelieveable. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and jizz over Importance of Being Earnest. 

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