Edred, the Vampyre
Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 29th October 2019
“a deliciously gothic tale with a wonderfully entertaining main character”
Both the set design and the venue for Edred, the Vampyre could not be more fitting to its subject matter – from the church-like red-draped seating to the stark black and white tiles of the stage and its crimson curtains that are gleefully ripped aside by our protagonist during the opening scene. This is a production that certainly doesn’t shy away from spectacle. It skilfully melds humour and drama, drawing the audience in with a few wry jokes about Google and Wikipedia and then drip-feeding them more and more horror as the show goes on.
Entering the church serving as our eponymous vampire’s dusty abode are gap-year travellers Elizabeth (Zari Lewis) and Jacques (James Hoyles). Filled with a panicked mixture of fear and scepticism, they are surprised to find a vampire that debunks a life of coffins and avoiding the sunlight and instead adopts the debonair paternalism of a camp 18th century uncle as he attempts to explain his life and history. Lewis’ Elizabeth is most drawn to Edred, and she plays the role with a deft mix of adoration, terror, and uncertainty. Comparatively, Hoyles’ character is underused and given less emotional range, but successfully carries off many of the jokes of the first half, furiously swearing at Edred in several entertaining sequences.
The play itself is aptly named, for although it is the other characters that have their lives and emotions rent asunder during the hour-long running time, Edred (Martin Prest) still remains the star – glittering with inimitable flamboyance. His movements and musings are joyful and enchanting to watch, as he sets about helping the duo uncover their own mysterious troubles and night terrors through exploring his thousand-year past.
The stage is set and from there the action unfolds, drawing on every available trope in the gothic arsenal, whether it is the darkness within us all, the dangerous power of sexuality, or familial and historical legacies. Writer David Pinner has filled Edred’s chronicle of historical happenstances with many familiar cultural references, and a large nod to perhaps the original godfather of gothic: William Shakespeare and his blood-filled Macbeth. The directing (Anthony Shrubsall), along with Prest’s excellent lively performance, ensures that there is never a quiet moment and that each historical vignette is delivered with gusto.
The play’s descent into a purer horror and its sudden end may not chime well with all viewers – there is no neat tying up of loose ends, or gentle sweeping character arcs – but for a genre founded on the bedrock of surprise and, above all, drama, it serves the play fittingly. Much like the character of Edred, the play is more about the journey than the end result. Retrospectively, it is perhaps too easy to question why certain storylines were teased at, but the overall ominous atmosphere – carried off with ease by a marriage of set design (Alys Whitehead) and lighting and sound (Chuma Emembolu) – makes for a deliciously gothic tale with a wonderfully entertaining main character.
Reviewed by Vicky Richards
Edred, the Vampyre
Old Red Lion Theatre until 2nd November as part of London Horror Festival 2019
Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Unnatural Tragedy
White Bear Theatre
Reviewed – 5th July 2018
“Spanning sobriety, wit, tension and fatality, this ‘Unnatural Tragedy’ entertains the mind and the heart.”
In the first performance since it was written 360 years ago, ‘The Unnatural Tragedy’ plunges straight into the 21st century with a compelling production which reveals the work of a female writer who was years ahead of her time. Prolific in quantity and scope, Margaret Cavendish, sometimes nicknamed Mad Madge due to her ‘outlandish’ ideas and opinions, wrote everything from plays and poetry to philosophy and science. In this, one of fourteen plays, three storylines run parallel, ostensibly separate though related in themes, predominantly the concept of nature. The main plot tells of Frere’s obsessive sexual attraction for his married sister, Soeur, when he returns after many years away at university, and his attempt to seduce her. Secondly, and not dissimilar to a Greek chorus, are scenes of the ‘sociable virgins’ – modernised as teenage schoolgirls – and their discussions on women’s values and roles, marriage, classical poetry and history. A third tale is that of rich and irascible Malateste who berates his gentle wife, Madame Bonit. When she dies he finds a new wife among the sociable virgins and the tables are turned.
Director, Graham Watts, skilfully interlocks the three scenarios, with slick pacing and dramatic balance, engaging the audience in each story. The open, two-sided stage area with a simple yet effective set design (Alys Whitehead) allows the numerous entrances and exits to flow and the lighting (Paola Capuano) and sound (Matthew Iles) add colour and detail.
Watts uses the disjointed nature of short interjecting scenes to build up tension and anticipation as the characters and situations develop. Jack Ayres and Alice Welby give strong, nuanced portrayals as the brother and sister. Frere’s repeated advances become more intense and his frustration grows frenzied; Soeur becomes trapped by his arguments, trying to convince him of his sinful thoughts as he rationalises his incestuous desires by explaining what he perceives as ‘natural’. The rise and fall of Malateste’s (Alan Booty) life is clearly drawn with a touching performance by Alison Mead as Madame Bonit who preserves her integrity in spite of her husband’s insults, and the domineering second wife, played by Madeleine Hutchins. Mademoiselle Amor, (Phebe Alys), is steadily crushed by unrequited love for Frere until, in a heartfelt moment of desperation, she collapses into the comfort of her father’s (James Sanderson) arms. Meanwhile, the sociable virgins, (including Eleanor Nawal and Lily Donovan), debate and deliberate with spirit and petulance, testing the patience of their tutor (Norma Dixit).
The striking feature of this play is its relevance today, stressing Cavendish’s radical thinking in creating voluble women characters who address conventional attitudes to matrimony, love and nature. Accomplished acting all round, with several of the cast making debut appearances, and sensitive, intelligent direction bring it alive with nuance and fluidity, tying together the threads of narrative, comment and emotions. Spanning sobriety, wit, tension and fatality, this ‘Unnatural Tragedy’ entertains the mind and the heart.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Alys Whitehead
The Unnatural Tragedy
White Bear Theatre until 21st July
Previously reviewed at this venue