The Perfect Companion
Reviewed – 17th October 2019
“an intense and intimate modern take on Dracula”
The Perfect Companion, a modern drawing-room style play written by Alessandro Babalola and adapted from the classic horror novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, takes place in the east London home of Richard (Frank Leon), a self-described life-coach preparing for a first date. The audience joins Richard on a rainy evening as a song from the first half of the 20th century is playing on repeat. Richard enters the room and silences the music by voice command, instantly dating the setting as the present but putting Richard somewhere in the past. As he dresses himself in a dark-coloured waistcoat, he faces the audience and practises some lines rather amusingly. Is he nervous? Or rehearsing?
Joanna (Charmaine K Parkin), Richard’s date, eventually arrives and immediately walks up to Richard and kisses him, a bold move for a first encounter. The couple’s evening begins with a long conversation about Joanna’s previous job at The Sun, why women choose (or not) to shave their legs, and how people need guidance in today’s world. She comments on the old creaky house and its antique furniture, and Richard comically replies that it makes him appear young. Brushing off all questions to do with his age, it is hinted throughout that Richard may be older than he appears. As the date goes on, it becomes clear that the pair both have things they would rather stay hidden.
The Perfect Companion was well directed (Parkin and Amelia Gardham), and the drawing room-style of the play suited it well, with the claustrophobia building over time, and the antique chairs and ornate wine glasses signalling the eeriness of Richard’s character perfectly. Joanna comes across as world-weary, overconfident and over-it-all. Her hard exterior makes her a somewhat unlikable and unrelatable character, something that was maybe not deliberate but does eventually make sense in the context of her secret past that reveals itself throughout the evening.
However, Richard’s behaviour during their discussion was far more intriguing and complex. While initially charming, he would express opposing opinions to Joanna’s views, increasing the tension between the two. This break in social convention added to the feeling of gradually rising unease in the room. Leon played Richard with near perfection, with an unusual vocal delivery subtlety using staccato and drawn out syllables in the wrong places. This added to the character’s otherness to great effect, especially in the first half of the performance when it is not explicitly clear what is different about him. An outburst by the character later in the story feels genuinely terrifying. Sound effects and lighting (Toby Boutall) were used effectively, with the lights swelling during a key moment of clarity and one occurrence of a loud thud behind the audience clearly suggesting that Richard and Joanna may not be alone. The final half of the play had a few too many twists too soon after each other, but the headiness of it all reflected the adrenaline that must have been going through Joanna’s mind.
The Perfect Companion provides an intense and intimate modern take on Dracula, discussing the effect of online dating culture and suppression of memories and emotions. Odd and unsettling, Leon’s captivating performance as Richard makes this production a must-see for fans of psychological horror.
Reviewed by Philip Coatsworth
The Perfect Companion
Pleasance Theatre until 19th October as part of London Horror Festival
Previously reviewed at this venue: