The Mystery of Irma Vep
- Allan Radcliffe
- 5 March 2009
Apparently, the contract for the original Off-Broadway production of The Mystery of Irma Vep stipulated that the play was to be performed by two actors of the same gender. Having seen Ian Grieve’s revival of Charles Ludlam’s 1984 spoof ‘penny dreadful’ for the Lyceum and Horsecross, it’s hard to imagine what the point of the play would be without the twin conceits of cross-dressing and the leads switching rapidly between multiple characters. Certainly there’s nothing remarkable about the script, an unsophisticated hodgepodge of double entendres, lame in-jokes and camp send-ups of already camp 1930s horror such as The Old Dark House and The Ghoul. The plot – a crude bolting together of Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Karl Freund’s The Mummy – barely makes sense.
And yet, there are pleasures to be derived from the inflated performances of Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll, who provoke hoots of laughter simply by donning another silly wig, talking in falsetto or mugging furiously, with McNicoll playing the deadpan foil to Gray’s over-the-top clown. While the production has the feel of an extended sketch from The Russ Abbott Show circa the mid-1980s and outstays its welcome by a good half-hour, it is padded out with amusing set pieces such as a Deliverance-style banjo duel with dulcimers and a diversion to Caernarvon-era Egypt that successfully distract from the innate ropiness of the play.
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 14 Mar