Part Vampire, written by Kenny O’Connell and directed by Zara Marie Brown, with music by Matt Shaw and the cast, is a musical comedy which plays with classic and contemporary horror tropes om a fun and exciting story of the cutthroat environment of showbusiness and what people are willing to do to achieve success.
The set features an ornate chair, polished coat stand and floral sofa, creating the impression of a well-kept, if slightly old fashioned home for Jack Moody (Phil Jones), a 67-year old former Hammer Horror extra who lives with his mother (Linzy Boden).
The show does a good job of exploiting the cringey and camp reputation of Hammer Horror with its darker undertones and genuine scary moments. Jack enters the stage in a threadbare dressing gown and plays an emotional piece on the violin, which creates a sense of Sherlock Holmes type drama, before his glamourous and interfering mother bursts onto the stage. Jack finds out he has been selected to audition for a new biopic about Christopher Lee.
What Jack doesn’t realise is Ned Chalmers (Ben Jones), an extra from the Twilight Saga, will also be at the audition. Ned’s smarmy and egotistic performance creates a sense of irritation from his first appearance. It soon becomes apparent that Ned’s persona is a cover for deeper insecurities caused by the brutality of the film industry and the tension between Jack and Ned is excellent and creates some very funny moments as they argue, particularly when they find out they are not in fact competing for the part but playing Lee at different ages.
However, it very quickly becomes clear that something is not right about Charlie (John Purcell), the film’s producer, and a late-night film shoot in an abandoned Welsh castle may be even worse for the actors’ careers than being typecast as background vampires.
The songs featured in the piece are a fun addition, and it is unfortunate the Hope Street Theatre does not have the acoustics which musical theatre needs to be at its best. This could be improved on if the actors were miked up. A lot of the time the background music was louder than the actors’ voices which is a shame. There were also no songs in the second half, which would usually be expected in musical theatre.
The play does an excellent job at playing with tropes of both the classic Hammer Horror genre and the tropes used in modern vampire films like Twilight. Camp humour being contrasted with the “edgy cool” modern vampire horror tries to convey, is married very nicely with co-star Rebecca’s (Stacey Orford) glamour and frustration with the film industry and Boden’s anger over the halting of her own career after having Jack. There is a lot of pushing against the fourth wall which could be utilised even further to maximise the comedic value of this technique.
Phil and Ben Jones’ mirroring of body language has been carefully choregraphed by Brown and is very effective. This is also subtly utilised between Boden and Orford’s parallel storylines and is a successful use of showing similar character journeys in different time periods. The images of rehearsal time and discussions around character development are very funny and create a real sense of the difficulties which can be experienced as an actor.
One of these difficulties is the ability to truly let yourself go and fully surrender to a role, no matter how absurd and sensational it demands you are. It is commonly believed that it is more difficult to play dramatic and tragic roles, but farcical comedy which requires maximum ludicrousness are very tricky to do well and the entire cast are to be commended for doing this particularly well, especially Orford and Ben Jones whose interactions are extremely funny.
Part Vampire is such a fun show which will appeal to fans of Hammer Horror and modern cringe comedy alike. Awkward and camp humour are put against a melodramatic and silly mystery, which keeps the rhythm of the show high and provides plenty of laugh out loud moments. There are some elements which could be developed further to make the most of the comedy value and even increase the level of horror in some places to create a sense of peril for our motley crew of characters, but overall this is an enjoyable show to see during the Halloween season, which may inspire you to look up some classic Hammer Horror to enjoy as the evenings get cooler and spookier.
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 6th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: