A Vampire Story
The Lyric jump on the blood-drinking bandwagon
The evolution of the vampire myth has taken something of a dramatic turn in recent years. Originally, vampires were feared, monstrous creatures with an insatiable lust for human flesh, corrupting young virgins in the dead of night before feeding on their heaving bosoms.
Recently, a new kind of vampire - young, sexy, introverted - has crept onto our screens and into the public consciousness. These vampires break the conventional rules. They don’t sleep in coffins, walk around in daylight and follow a vegetarian lifestyle.
Authors like Stephenie Meyer and Charlaine Harris revolutionised the vampire story in their novels Twilight and True Blood, the film and TV adaptations of which have obsessed many a twi-hard teen across the globe. So it was no surprise to hear that the Lyric Youth Group would tackle the genre on stage, performing Monsterist playwright Moira Buffini's dark tale A Vampire Story to bring in the New Year with a fang (or two).
The synopsis of the play is ambiguous. Are the two central characters, the argumentative Eleanor and Claire, mother and daughter, as the eldest contends, or are they sisters? Are they vampires, on the look out for new meat, or simply troubled young women on the run? It's an attractive conceit, and one that draws in the punters - Queens drama professor David Grant is almost turned away, but they manage to fit him in somehow.
The gothic atmosphere of the Elmwood Hall is the perfect setting for a story that flips back and forth between Victorian London and the modern day. The thrust stage is sparsely set, with school chairs littered here and there in the shadow of a lighting rig, which has dismembered mannequins protruding from between the bars. Downstage a girl in Victorian dress sits at a desk writing, even as the audience take their seats. This girl is Ella, a duplicate of the troubled Eleanor, who often echoes her lines.
The play is broken into 13 scenes, or 'chapters', each with a different title. Two intertwining stories are played out. The first is written by Ella, the second by A-level drama student Eleanor, telling the story of Clara, her vampire mother, who felt the kiss of death some 200 years previously.
Both tales could be the brain child of a tormented teen's mind, and therefore it is difficult to decide which ‘reality’ we are to believe. Overall the play is an enjoyable, if at times confusing experience. Anna Newell's Brechtian direction has the actors coming and going from the back of the hall up onto the stage, but never in an invasive way. There is a hint of melodrama at times, with the leading ladies delivering lines that feel forced and over the top. This could be intentional, or it could be inexperience - all of the actors are in their late teens or early 20s, after all.
One theme which is broached but never fully fleshed out is that of modern western society destroying mother earth - as a vampire sucks blood, suggests Buffini, so we consumers suck the life from our planet. Obsessed by this theme, outsider Frank Stein encourages Eleanor to run away with him to London, where they can 'protest' against environmental disaster. Perhaps this thin subtext is but one of Frank's simplistic, angst-ridden theories, and not an actual commentary from the writer. Either way, it manages only to confuse things further, an unsuccessful attempt at making the piece topical.
So, are the girls really vampires, or simply hyper-imaginative vagrants running from social services? There is, in the end, a third option: that neither story is completely true. Perhaps we have all been duped by Ella, a disturbed rape victim and anorexic, who occupies a world of escape where people ‘believe the most fabulous tale you can tell’.
It would be easy to write A Vampire Story play off as an A level standard imaginative piece, but it has its selling points. Throughout the production there are chuckles from the audience, as some of the more eccentric characters provide comic relief from darker themes.
The cast perform admirably - the nervous, unsociable Frank Stein is brilliantly executed by Dermot Hickson, for instance, and Hannah McClean’s beauty and presence are well suited to the tough yet elegant Clara. It’s a shame that A Vampire Story only runs for two nights - I would have liked to see it again. As it is, I'm not sure what to believe. Perhaps, in the end, that's the point.