The Curse of the Demeter
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 26 October 2009, and touring
TO CREATE an atmosphere of terror on the stage takes some doing. To do it with only two actors is a greater accomplishment still. But that's what Visible Fictions manages in this edge-of-your-seat staging of Robert Forrest's teen-friendly play inspired by the section of Bram Stoker's Dracula in which the Transylvanian vampire stows away on the good ship Demeter and stalks the crew on their voyage to England.
On Lisa Sangster's simple wooden set of gangways and drawers, Jonathan Holt and Gavin Kean play all the characters from captain to 12-year-old recruit, marking the changes by instant switches in status and accent, always with the utmost clarity.
So effortlessly do they appear to populate the ship that they are able to conjure up Dracula by his absence more than his presence. For much of the play, the vampire is a suspicion, a fear, an uneasy feeling. Even when the men start disappearing, their fate is not entirely certain; an uncertainty that intensifies the air of horror.
When the unwelcome passenger does show himself, he speaks into a microphone like some malevolent narrator, both distant and controlling. It is technical tricks such as this that distinguish Douglas Irvine's production. Like his similarly spooky 2004 production Into the Dark, The Curse of the Demeter has a touch of The Blair Witch Project about it, this time evoked by the actors using a hand-held video camera to pursue each other round the set in the most dangerous moments. Not only does the screen imagery unsettle us with its shakiness, but also it creates the illusion of a much bigger boat than the set alone can convey.
It does this without letting the technology take over. There is no question the show works in theatrical terms. Yet by, for example, focusing the camera on one actor's eyes at a point of greatest terror, it exploits the capacity for a cinematic close-up to maximum dramatic effect.
Throw in a suitably haunting score by Daniel Padden and you have a grippingly executed exercise in fear.
The Curse of the Demeter’s remaining tour dates include Gordonstoun School, Elgin (3 November 2009) and Universal Hall, Findhorn (4 November 2009).
© Mark Fisher, 2009