Missing out on terror

Carmilla

Wolverhampton Grand

**

IN days of yore Roger Corman and Hammer Horror were the kings of low budget gothic horror, with Corman committing Edgar Allan Poe to celluloid and Hammer shuffling the Dracula and Frankenstein pack with the odd Mummy thrown in.

And in 1970 Hammer produced the first of its Karnstein Trilogy based, loosely, on Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1972 vampire novella Carmilla, named The Vampire Lovers, and with Hammer under pressure from other producers, with bigger budgets, in the horror market, Hammer had created the bloodshed and bosoms genre with nude scenes and the most explicit scenes of lesbianism then seen in mainstream cinema.

David Campton’s play Carmilla, first produced in 1972, is based on the same novel but has no nudity, a few hints of lesbianism, and, to be honest precious little horror. Indeed the most frightening thing about it is the picture of the Chimera in the programme.

The script is clunky and dialogue flows like molasses on a particularly cold day – Carmilla seemed to say blood and death every other word – and the pace is pedestrian, ambling from scene to scene, and 17 scenes do not help build any tension.

Every few minutes the stage is darkened and we hear ecarmilla posterither a very loud clock, or perhaps it is an arthritic horse, to indicate the passing or time along with some urgent horror music, changing to an organ in Act II, among the offstage noises of an assortment of wolves, screams, tolling bells and a cockerel.

The set was simple, a doorway from Col Smithson’s Schloss somewhere onto a terrace somewhere in Central Europe on one side of the stage, while a crumbling gateway into a decaying graveyard inhabits the other side.

The chimera or grotesque used to inject a little terror into a rather tame tale of vampire horror

 We open with a manic Captain Field, played by Christopher Hogben, stake in hand, who has just lost his girlfriend, or at least friend, to some deadly illness. He is arguing with Ivan, played by James Percy, the jack-booted servant of some woman we know is up to no good who tells him that before he can do anything to his mistress she will be long gone – the dead travel fast we are told.

When the servant pops up again in the next scene as he arranges for his mistress’s daughter, Carmilla, played by Michelle Morris, to stay with aristocrat Smithson, played by Peter Amory, while she recovers from a coach crash then the alarm bells should be loud enough to wake the dead, or in this case, undead.

Then we discover the dead girl in Paris is the cousin who should have been visiting the Smithsons and it has become a conspiracy. When Carmilla appears she refuses to be examined by the good doctor Spielsberg, played by Paul Lavers and then starts to form a somewhat overbearing friendship with the Colonel’s daughter Laura played by Melissa Clements.

Trying, somewhat wetly, to keep Laura on track is her governess Madame Perredon, played by Karen Ford, while trying to keep her safe is a mysterious Italian gypsy with a monkey puppet and a nice line in anti-vampire remedies which seem to be going well in the nearby village where young girls are dropping like flies and the death bell is tolling non-stop

One assumes, incidentally, that it is a remarkably poor part of Central Europe as the cast remain in the same clothes day and night as the weeks pass.

To be fair the hardworking cast do not have a lot to work with and do their best. The set is utilitarian rather than inspiring and there is a dearth of anything approaching tension and horror, so much so that the final, dramatic twist as everything comes to a head on the tomb of the Countess Karnstein who died 200 years ago, is greeted not with gasps or shock, but laughs.

Morris as the attractive vampire and Clements as her sweet innocent prey do their best to inject some life into proceedings but the script seems dated, cumbersome and stilted leaving Carmilla as a bit of a bloodsucking bore rather than the sexy seducer of body, soul and reason we expect of our curvaceous female vampires. The result is almost a parody of a Hammer horror bringing smiles rather than shivers. This is the third and final play in Ian DIcken’s rep season at the Grand but needs an awful lot of resuscitation before it is let out of its tomb again. To 12-07-14

Roger Clarke

08-07-14

Fangs back in fashion

***

JUST when we have seen the back of a World Cup footballer who likes to bite people, along comes a play about a very attractive female with a taste for sinking her fangs into necks!

The third and final drama in producer Ian Dickens’ Summer Play Season is set in a remote Eastern European castle where the arrival of an unexpected guest coincides with mysterious deaths in the nearby village.

If the Gothic story lacks the impact of the Dracula films, the second act sees an improvement in the tension as Laura, the innocent daughter of the host, Colonel Smithson, is on the verge of becoming a victim of the blood-thirsty visitor. Can she be saved by the dashing Captain Field (Christopher Hogben), who also cleverly doubles as amusing gipsy who seems to know a bit about vampires.

Michelle Morris is excellent as the beautiful but dangerous Carmilla, while Melissa Clements provides a good balance in the role of the threatened Laura, and there are good performances from Peter Amory (Colonel Smithson) and Paul Lavers (Dr Spielsberg).

The set, sound effects and lighting certainly help add to the eerie atmosphere. To 12.07.14

Paul Marston 

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