31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 28: Silence! The Musical (Arts After Hours)

0
source: artsafterhours.com

source: artsafterhours.com

How can a musical¬†featuring a song called ‘If I Could Smell Your Cunt’ be so painfully tedious? And from especially an Arts After Hours production, a reliable staple of my last two Hallowe’ens, and yes I am drunk but I am so pissed off that this was such a terrible, awful, no-good disappointment of a Friday night out. And you know what’s worse? The fact that the players had such a pervasive energy that it felt rude not to acknowledge its potential to make a decent show better, if not for a cringe-driven exercise in overly-telegraphed humour that left the performers’ would-be-infectious efforts ring hollow.

Jesus. I’m sorry. But Silence! The Musical was worlds apart from Arts After Hours’ 2013 and 2015 offerings. I felt like I do when I am in a room in which everyone loves Lady Gaga and I do not. 2013’s Evil Dead: The Musical was a masterful homage, spoof and love letter to all things Raimi. 2015’s The Texas Chainsaw Musical was a hand-over-mouth ‘should i laugh at this?’ send-up of Ed Gein’s twisted, romantic leanings, plus sprinklings of its cinematic influencee, Leatherface.

But 2016’s production left I and others I spoke to feeling embarrassingly cheated. It resembled nothing of what I’d expected based on previous productions. The humour was obvious, low-brow fare, and when it wasn’t ‘avoiding’ lazy double entendres by asking fellow characters to refrain from making them, it relied solely on spoofing the film (imagine Scary Movie vs. Spaceballs) without any non-spoof humour to prop it up. The production never had a chance in standing up on its own.

No doubt that the actress who plays Clarice is well-equipped to dazzle on both stage and screen. But she is wasted in a show that demands that she extract her role’s only source of entertainment value from a copycat accent that takes a a Southern drawl and shits on it with an inconsistent speech impediment that gets old after five minutes. Hannibal himself is delightfully deadpan, and a ¬†memorable Buffalo Bill gives it his admirable all, but it’s the background players that had me leak out the odd guffaw. The way they effortlessly turn from intro-singing moths to scurrying FBI agents, or background wanking and Tourette-cursing while Clarice did her best Christian Slater impression had me spitting out my beer. I’d happily watch a retelling from their point of view.

I feel like a dick for being this honest but I’m not that important of a human being, so fuck it for saying I couldn’t wait for it to end. Despite gleefully enjoying my last two Arts After Hours shows, I’d never had unreasonably high hopes for this one. But now I’m cautious as to what my next year will bring.

2/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 21: The Woman in Black (Fortune Theatre)

0

I felt it proper that my first West End theatre experience, since moving to London, ought to be a spooky experience. Playing exclusively at the Fortune Theatre since 1989, The Woman in Black seemed like an apt choice.

Anyone who’s seen the 2012 film or read Susan Hill‘s 1983 book won’t have been spoiled – it’s nothing like either. The play is surprisingly minimal – stripped bare, with a only a wicker chest, two wooden chairs and two actors on stage. Everything else is suggested through crisp audio cues, or conjured up through the actors’ response to them (such as Spider the dog). Heed that before you go, in case you’d rather have more elaborate sets and multiple actors.

The story is set up as a play within a play. Our story’s protagonist, Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) has written a play to recount his chilling experiences with the titular Woman in Black. In some of the (IRL) play’s most humorous moments, Arthur has embarrassing trouble playing the part of himself, and ends up deferring to an actor (Matt Connor) to take over. It’s a clever bit of levity before the spooks start coming in.

And they literally do. After we’d been advised not to take any aisle seats, I spent the odd minute doing some sporadic fake-outs towards the stalls doors, trying to unsettle my theatremate. I’m happy to say it worked at least once. Because the theatre is so small, your experience is already more immersive than if you’d taken your West End experience elsewhere; so nobody expected to have ghouls appearing in the aisle. It was rather sweet.

But, for me, not as scary as everyone had been losing their shit over. It’s expertly-acted and dizzyingly-paced, and sound production is second to none. It’s just not as frightening as the consensus had made out, and the Woman in Black herself is not so much terrifying as she is tragic.

Also: apologies. If you were there Friday, 21 October 2016, I am the asshole that coughed in the theatre. I tried to hold it in but, just like stifling a laugh that shouldn’t be laughed, it just made it worse. The throat-fracturing red wine is to blame.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 27: Dracula’s Guest

0

source: hauntedhappenings.org

Today I played the tourist – wandered around town in makeup (an adaptation of this and with this costume), ate gross carnival food, took a decent spooky tour on the Salem Trolley¬†and took a ton of photos of people in costume (it was so busy in the afternoon, but the crowds thinned out quickly as the sun disappeared). Earlier on in the day, I took in a 45-minute play at the Salem Theatre Company. The show was Dracula’s Guest, and for $15, I was expecting good quality (especially as I had just missed on on a free ticket given by another patron by minutes).

The show, in its original literary form, was written by Bram Stoker himself, but is considered to be a rejected draft of Dracula‘s first chapter. This particular play adaption names the protagonist (the “Englishman”) as Jonathan Harker, even though his name is not revealed in the book, but that’s not where the differences end: in fact, once Harker reaches Dracula’s castle, the play seems to veer off to pick up the entire plot of the actual, final, Dracula book (complete with Dracula yelling, “Get back!” to the succubi, and the book’s ending), so I’m not quite sure if we’re all really supposed to be calling this play “Dracula’s Guest”.

source: youtube.com

Regardless of this, for such a teensy tiny theatre (in budget and staff as well as size – its 100-odd capacity stage area is separated from the hallway/lobby/entrance by a curtain), they put on a lively and engaging performance, widely side-stepping the “stilted period acting/dialogue” issues faced by monologue actors in performances in The House of the Seven Gables or Witch House. There are some wavered line deliveries here and there, but performances are crisp; Harker (Conor Burke) is capable enough, able to sympathetically portray Harker’s growing confusion and descent into near-madness. Dann Anthony Murno (Dracula) cuts a menacing yet charismatic figure on stage, and wouldn’t look out of place in a more serious Hammer Horror flick. Greg Mancusi-Ungaro’s resourceful lighting compliments and makes good use of highlighting the actors, and the Fogles (John and Jean) provide some decent set design and costumes to set the mood (particularly in the absence of almost any props).

So while this isn’t technically Dracula’s Guest, it’s well-acted enough that I can excuse that. The monologues are evenly spaced in between actual back-and-forth dialogue; direction/blocking, sound effects and items on a projection screen (e.g. the castle skyline) keeps the show moving quickly, despite its minimalist design. The show runs nightly until October 31.