Nosferatu

Ian McMillan
Proper Job Theatre
The Met, Bury

Proper Job's take on the vampire myth takes its title and imagery from Murnau's 1922 classic horror film of the same name, legally ruled as an unauthorised copy of Dracula, but the tale it tells comes from a short episode from Bram Stoker's famous novel.

The novel reveals its terrible events through a series of letters and journal entries; similarly, McMillan's script begins with the Captain's log of the Demeter, the Russian ship that runs aground in Whitby bearing nothing but boxes of earth from Transylvania and a missing crew, according to Stoker. The Captain's log reveals how the crew disappeared, one by one.

The play looks at what happened aboard the ship, starting with the burial of a wrapped body at sea when only the Captain (Brendan Weakliam) and two crew members—superstitious Leishman (Rick Ferguson) and committed Christian Peter (Tim Cunningham)—are left alive, plus the mysterious cargo in the hold.

The Captain is a rational man of science who tries to convince his frightened men that there is a rational explanation for the deaths. Leishman becomes convinced that the Captain is killing them, that he is Nosferatu, and conspires with Peter to kill him, but Peter's religion tells him this is wrong—"thou shalt not kill", he repeats again and again.

While based on the most famous horror story of all time, very little happens at all in this play. It's a piece about waiting for the morning to come in the last hour before dawn, when the daylight will lift the threat from the evil cargo and will bring them into land.

McMillan's script seems like a series of linked poems, which add some interesting insights and twists to the familiar story and some beautiful imagery (the passengers who miss the train on the station are "wearing disappearing steam"). However some parts of the script still sound like poems and attempts to deliver them as dialogue, rather than poems, sounds false.

The mood of the whole production and of each character, all played at full intensity, is established at the start and never changes, so there is little variety, and any hints at humour in the script are glossed over.

Sarah Beaton's set design is striking with its huge ship's cabin at a steep angle dominating the stage, lit with a great sense of atmosphere by Pete Robinson of dbn. Rod Beale's music runs throughout like a film soundtrack and is extremely effective at maintaining the mood with its combination of recorded music, live playing on stage by cellist Anna Scott—who also sings the Voice of the Sea in a hauntingly beautiful voice, although the words are largely unintelligible—with some vocals from the cast and violin from Cunningham.

There are some impressive elements to the production, but the lack of any action or variety makes it seem a very long eighty minutes. It would be interesting, though, to read the script—or hear McMillan himself read it.

Reviewer: David Chadderton