“It’s an interesting premise, and a great format in theory.”
There have been plenty of meditations on the problems with social media and influencers. And there have been plenty of stories told about the ugly truth behind fame. Fame Whore has as stab at both. And though we’ve seen these ideas many times before, there’s a complexity and messiness to this one which sticks with me on my journey home, and which ultimately makes it worth a watch.
Becky Biro is a hard-working drag artist, showcasing her sass and silly song-writing across the city. But she finds herself caught between wanting to do the right thing and promote the rights of the underrepresented, and being completely and utterly selfish, taking what she feels she deserves without consequence.
Having been rejected from Drag Factor year after year, she decides the only way she’ll be accepted is by gaining an undeniably massive and committed social media following. But how to go about it?
The show is split in to two main chunks: ‘1. Becky Biro is a good person and all of this just happened to her’, and ‘2. Becky is a total bitch, and this is what she really did’. It’s a great way to split up the narrative: first we get to know Becky, we’re on her side. Then we get down to the gritty truth.
This is the kind of drag I love, on a shoe-string budget, but with plenty of extra touches to keep our campy spirits up. A brilliant nod to Drag-Race star Sasha Velour’s shaking out her wig to reveal raining petals is a particular highlight.
Alys Whitehead’s design- a mirrored floor, a colour-changing ring light, and a glittery blue curtain- set the scene, but ultimately, Gigi Zahir is the show. Zahir, aka Crayola the Queen, is magnetic as fame-hungry Becky. Touting shallow nonsense- “Beckly Biro is delicious and good tasting but also nutritious. It’s not just donuts for dinner!”- so fluently, it’s as though the person behind the drag has been completely lost under that enormous blue wig. But Zahir is also a dab hand at dropping the façade abruptly, if only for a moment, so that we see the honest, whimpering desperation.
It’s an interesting premise, and a great format in theory. The trouble is, it’s a half hour too long, and ends up being a bit of a drag. Whilst Zahir is fabulous, and writer Tom Ratcliffe has moments of charming vitriol, the story just isn’t really meaty enough for 90 minutes straight through.
“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