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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP (article first published : 2007-07-30)

The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam is a “Penny Dreadful” campy melodrama tribute to Gothic horror films, happily borrowing from well-known movie classics like Wuthering Heights, The Mummy's Curse and Alfred Hitchcock's Academy Award-winning Rebecca.

Literary detectives will also recognise dialogue lifted from Ibsen, Shakespeare, Poe, the Brontës, Omar Khayyam, and Oscar Wilde.

Play all of the eight characters, two actors (Michael Gritten and Steven Stead) race through a literal quick-change marathon complete with werewolves, vampires and damsels in distress. Combine all that with crazy plot twists (two characters travel from England to Egypt to inspect a mummy), and The Mystery of Irma Vep guarantees fun for everyone.

Written in 1984, The Mystery of Irma Vep became the most popular of Ludlam's plays. It was named one of 1984's best plays by Time Magazine and The New York Times and won Drama Desk and Obie awards for both Ludlam and his partner, Everett Quinton. Though many doubted that the play would have appeal beyond the Ridiculous Theatrical Company and its original stars, it became one of the most-produced plays in the country, delighting audiences with non-stop action and demanding tour-de-force performances.

Vep is an exercise in high spoof and dexterous acting,” says Elizabeth Weir in her Talking Broadway feature. “Two actors play eight roles in a convoluted story set in Lord Edgar Hillcrest's isolated moorland manor house, Mandacrest (think Mandalay). Irma Vep is Lord Edgar's three-years-deceased wife, who consorted with a wolf and exerts her will on the living (think Rebecca). There's a Mrs. Danvers-like housekeeper, Jane, who can't forgive the hapless Lady Enid for being Lord Edgar's new wife. Then we have Nicodemus, a deformed groundsman, an Egyptian tomb robber, a mummy and a vampire. Oh, and don't forget the likeable werewolf! Well, you get the picture.”

The Mystery of Irma Vep is directed and designed by Greg King. It will run at Seabrooke’s Theatre at DHS from August 21 to September 9 from Tuesday to Saturday at 19h30 (Sundays at 16h00). Seating is unreserved. Tickets R80 (no discounts) booked through Computicket or at the theatre on the day of the performance.

Pensioners and students in possession of valid ID can enjoy a reduced rate of R60 if purchasing tickets an hour before each performance from the box office and paying in cash. (Please note: there are NO CREDIT CARD bookings on discounted seats) There is a special scholars’ rate of R45 per pupil if part of an official school booking.

The Mystery of Irma Vep will be on the programme of the Witness Hilton Arts Festival in September.




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