THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP: A PENNY DREADFUL.
by Charles Ludlam.
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre 410 Brockley Road SE4 2DH To 4 January 2014.
Tue–Sun 7.45pm No performance 15,16, 23-27, 31 Dec, 1 Jan.
Runs 1 hr 45min One interval.
Review: William Russell 12 December.
Jacks of all trades and master of most.
Charles Ludlam’s two-hander was described as one of the best plays of the year by Time Magazine and The New York Times in 1984, the year it opened off-Broadway for Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company. That, frankly, is pushing it, but maybe it was a bad year.
As a play it is what it is: very funny – not so much because the lines are hilarious, although there are some suitably good bad jokes, but being a two-hander with a long list of characters it is the hoops the actors have to jump through in order to play the roles simultaneously and get on and off stage with time to change costume that provides most of the comedy.
How, for instance, can Lady Enid be wooed by Nicodemus since the same actor plays both parts? With difficulty. The plot owes a lot to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as it starts in the mansion on the moors to which Lord Edgar (Jonathan Kemp) has brought his second wife, Enid (William Kempsell), much to the displeasure of housekeeper Jane (Jonathan Kemp) and the delight of the one-legged gardener Nicodemus (William Kempsell) and – well, go and find out.
Kemp does a splendid take on Phyllis Logan as the housekeeper and is nicely dashing in the Olivier manner as Lord Edgar, while Kempsell’s buxom Lady Enid, his oleaginous Egyptian grave-robber and one-legged swain are miles apart.
There are vampires, werewolves roaming the moors, a side trip to Egypt to a Mummy’s tomb, and a creature locked in a cell behind the bookcase who, when released, goes amok with a cleaver.
Ludlam’s source material for his concoction, as well as du Maurier are all those black and white horror B-movies with wolf men, vampires and mad Egyptologists. For good measure, he throws in references to Shakespeare, the Brontës, and Edgar Anna Poe to provide some moments to groan at. As a Christmas offering Irma Vep really could not be bettered and the Jack’s Artistic Director, Kate Bannister, has dished it up to perfection. As for the actors, well the phrase is a double tour de force.
Lord Edgar Hillcrest/Jane Twisden: Jonathan Kemp.
Lady Enid Hillcrest/Nocodemus Underwood/Alcazar/Pev Amri: William Kempsell.
Irma Vep: ????
Director: Kate Bannister.
Designer: Karl Swinyard.
Lighting: William Ingham.
Sound: Max Peppenheim.
Choreographer: Judy Gordon.
Costume: Martin Robinson .
Fight director: Austin Spangler.