The Mystery of Irma Vep
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
2 out of 5
The biggest mystery of Irma Vep is why such an ephemeral piece has been revived in the first place. The show's producers would have been bolstered, perhaps, by the oft-extended run of Charles Ludlam's horror send-up when it was staged in New York by the author's Ridiculous Theatre Company in 1984. They also must have been delighted to have found a showcase for the comic talents of Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll. But none of this explains how they summoned up the energy to read to the end of the script, let alone pool the resources of the Royal Lyceum and Perth Theatre to put it on.
The play has two jokes. The first is the parody of the horror genre, complete with country house, werewolves, mummies and vampires. The second is that two actors play all eight characters, resulting in rapid costume changes, cross-dressing and awkward off-stage banter. In this production, neither seems purposeful.
When Ludlam performed The Mystery of Irma Vep himself, he twinned an ironic deconstruction of the horror genre with a high-camp celebration of it. This sense is absent in Ian Grieve's production. Not only is the director vague about the play's film and literary references, but he fails to make clear why anyone should want to spend two hours lampooning such a self-evidently silly genre.
If you want a masterclass in the double take, look no further than Gray and McNicoll, who play every melodramatic moment to the max. But a joke about theatre's poverty of resources that seemed fresh in the 80s is now overfamiliar thanks to hit shows such as Stones in His Pockets and The 39 Steps. If there's any chance of Ludlam's play carrying greater weight than an extended episode of Acorn Antiques, it needs to be about more than the actors' facility for funny voices and silly walks.
© Mark Fisher, 2009