by Natalie Bennett
If you look down the range of credits of the cast of The Curse of the Werewolf they make a curious mix. Sarah Whitlock has appeared in The Mousetrap and multiple pantomimes. Hugh Futcher has been in “seven of the Carry On films”, James Horne in Me and My Girl. So what on earth are they doing in a werewolf drama underneath the arches in Southwark, deep in the London fringe?
Well what they are doing is using the skills they’ve already displayed in the earlier shows – a fine soft-shoe shuffle, a trilling verse, comic delivery of a very old line – in an affectionate parody of the traditional British stage, blended with a dose of Hammer horror. It could be dreadful – but it’s actually great fun. The key to successful parody, if its not scathing satire, is that it has to be well done – and this is remarkably well done: the ice-skating scene is quite the neatest bit of low-budget stagecraft I’ve seen in a good while.
The story is established in the opening scene: we’re a graveyard at midnight in 1890 and the baroness is being buried under dubious circumstances, complete with gusts of dry ice. That sets the scene into which arrive the entire stereotypical English family – jolly well-meaning hen-pecked Dr Bancroft (Futcher), the stout, domineering, resolutely unimaginative Mrs Bancroft (Whitlock) and their flirty, empty-headed daughter Kitty (Alexi Caley) – who’s after a husband with the highest title that she can snare. What she doesn’t know is that the “butler”, D’Arcy (Gareth ap Watkins) is more than he seems.
We’re set for the classic English farce on this side, while the locals provide the Hammer darkness – the dark and mysterious Baron von Heilman (Daniel Brocklebank), the mad professor, Steiner (James Horne) obsessed with the idea of lycanthropy (werewolfism), attended by the strange nurse/attendant Frau Gessler (Kirstie Senior). She’s stereotypically, German in irritating ways – the least effectively written and staged part of the production.
At the centre of both plot and attention is Kitty, played highly effectively by Caley as an Enid Blyton form of femme fatale, fluttering eyelashes and jolly hockeysticks. She has a fine voice, and a real stage presence – definitely one to watch. But this is a solid ensemble production – the acting high class and the singing generally also solid, with continual musical accompaniment from Andrew Swift on piano. Energy levels are high, but they’re controlled, balanced.
But it is the moments of surrealism — the tapdancing werewolf, the love song accompanied by copulating puppet rabbits, the musical paen to nature delivered in a haunted graveyard while a “ghost” tries to interrupt — that will stick in your mind.
There can be criticisms – the two and a half hour production is a little too long, there’s some unecessarily complicated shuffling around of scenery, but overall this is a fun evening that deserves a full house every night. Bring your sense of the ridiculous, and don’t be too literal, and you’ll have a great time.
The production continues at the Union Theatre until September 22. Tickets: Tuesday – all seats £9; Wednesday to Saturday – £12 and £10. Box office 0207 261 9876. Other views: The Stage.