“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
“We’ve come to listen to the voices, and any visuals are just comic icing on the cake”
Spending an hour in the company of James Carney, Brice Stratford, Joey Timmins and The Unseen Hour is a bit like getting on one of those rollercoaster rides. It’s a gravity defying journey that turns your expectations inside out and upside down—and, as it gathers speed, leaves you realising that whatever notions of “real” you may have had at the start—well, forget reality, hang onto your hat, and for sixty minutes, just enjoy the ride. This is another theatre production presented as a “live radio broadcast,” (and this seems to be a thing on the London Fringe right now). Creator, writer and producer Carney has gained something of a cult following by making podcasts of fifty of these shows. Yes, fifty. So if you’re wondering what you’ve missed by not attending The Unseen Hour’s only appearance at the 2019 London Horror Festival at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, fear not. You can revel in the experience either through your favourite podcast app, or, if you’re old school like me, catch the visuals and the audios by finding it on You Tube. Carney promises that number fifty one, which was performed last night, should shortly be joining its siblings online.
How to describe a show that begins by describing a dystopian future where a narcissistic scientist finds himself battlling robots and an evil corporation, to protect mutating teenagers? You could be forgiven for thinking that the future is already here. What sets Carney’s show apart though, is the way in which he and the company loop back into the past for their inspiration. Billed as a mashup of Welcome To Night Vale and The Goon Show, or Blackadder and The Twilight Zone, The Unseen Hour does indeed borrow its characterisations and voices from these earlier classics. But don’t arrive expecting the sleek production values of those past television shows. The stage is a mess of microphones and oddities for making live foley sound effects. The actors dress in costumes utterly unrelated to any character they might be playing. It doesn’t matter. We’ve come to listen to the voices, and any visuals are just comic icing on the cake.
Voices are the strength of these performers, and they provide a dizzying array of different characters, all with distinct accents. What gives the show its unique charm however, are the bumbling asides as the three performers juggle parts, sound effects and direct address to audience members—whom they seem to know a lot about. It gives the show an authenticity of being part of the experience that goes beyond removing the fourth wall. And there is an established pattern to the show, despite the running gags, anarchic storylines and just-in-time performance styles. Every show, including this one, includes a guest monologue and a guest musician. It gives Carney, Stratford and Timmins (and the audience) a chance to catch their collective breath. Anna Maguire (the monologue performer) and Kevin Maguire (the musician) on this evening, provided a welcome (and talented) change of pace at each interval.
It’s easy to get hooked on this kind of dramatic experience. That said, it is a bit bewildering for the first time visitor. There’s not really any “tune in” time, because the performers jump right in with their stream-of consciousness monologues and random associations, and assume you can keep up. As said before, it’s best to let go of expectations and be carried along in the show’s slipstream. As ancient sages have so often remarked, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
The Unseen Hour
Pleasance Theatre as part of London Horror Festival