The Mystery of Irma Vep

Charles Ludlam
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
(2009)

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Reincarnating a horror spoof is a dangerous exercise. The horror genre has been parodied practically to death (Scary Movie 3 anyone?), so one has to wonder at the rationale of digging up this comedy from 1984.

The device of having two actors play all the men, women and creatures is good, but the script is bogged down by rambling soliloquies that allow the other actor time to change costume.

The script lets down Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll, who have the potential to be a great double act, giving them few jokes to get their fangs into. To say the script is dated would be unfair on the sense of humour of the 80s audience: some of the jokes would have the mummies of Ancient Egypt yawning through their linen rags.

The actors manage to suck out some laughs largely through their physicality and ability to switch between well defined eccentric characters. Gray's airy Lady Enid and McNicoll's venomous Irish housekeeper are perhaps the best pairing, especially in their duelling zither showdown.

Where the piece worked well was in making reference to the multiple role-playing device. This self-consciousness was very entertaining, but it could have gone so much further. It was far too timid: it needed to be more frantic, more manic, particularly later on after the convention had been established.

There was no need for each actor to have set characters: they could have swapped around more, the number of characters was also rather limited. It was unfortunate for the actors as they could clearly have risen to the challenge of more characters and faster-paced action.

The set was wonderful, with wonders such as a temporary pyramid, allowing a brief flight to Egypt for the protagonist Lord Edgar Hillcrest. Most of the action took place in the gorgeous gothic library drawing room, and this wasn't just a pretty facade: the tech wizards had done a great job bringing it to life.

From a technical perspective this was a meticulous production with a multitude of effects all working on cue. Deafening thunder and epilepsy-inducing lightning along with the melodramatic score all added magnificently to the mood of the piece.

There must have been either a large or very hardworking backstage team as the actors were never without their many props or late from a hasty costume change. Though maybe it was a little too smooth for a romp of this kind.

The problem - and the blame - lies firmly with the writer, in that the piece dragged as the actors were only allowed to plod slowly from one character to the next. There should have been much quicker changes with costumes clearly thrown on in a hurry: there was so much great potential for a real farce, which was missed.

The playwright describes it as a penny dreadful, I concur with the latter part.

Running until 14th March

Reviewer: Seth Ewin