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The Mystery of Irma Vep

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
2 stars
One of character comedian Steve Coogan’s less celebrated moments was a TV series called Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible. Each episode was a pastiche of the sort of hammy horror films that kept the British film industry on life support in the early 1970s. The series failed because its subjects weren’t any good in the first place, and only appealed to middle-aged film geeks of Coogan’s generation who could spot the references. Much the same could be said of Charles Ludlam’s self-styled 1984 ‘penny dreadful’ – bizarrely once the most performed work on the American stage – which takes Rebecca as its starting point, then throws a pot pourri of vampires, werewolves, bleeding portraits and Egyptian Mummies into a cauldron that even allows for a leg-crossing Basic Instinct gag and Deliverance style duelling dulcimers.

The conceit here is that the whole shebang is performed by two actors who cross-dress as assorted lords, ladies, simpleton servants and mad maids like bilio. The effect, as performed by Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll in Ian Grieve’s co-production between the Royal Lyceum and Perth’s Horsecross organisation, is akin to one of Stanley Baxter’s grand damefests revelling in its own rubbishness. Stretching what’s essentially a one-line sketch to beyond the two hour mark, however, really is a scream-inducing nightmare.

As self-indulgence goes, there are far worse crimes, and if this were a late night show on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it might stand a chance of becoming the cult hit it so desperately craves to be. On the main stage of the capital’s main repertory house, however, it seems an un-necessarily elaborate and trivial pursuit.

The Herald, February 23rd 2009

ends

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