strange_complex: (Vampira)
Here's another thing I saw recently with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy: a theatrical production of Bram Stoker's Dracula put on by these people in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey. It was a blissful summer's day at the height of the heatwave, and the show was staged in what must once have been the abbey cloisters, but is now a large square enclosure carpeted with grass and overlooked by ruined towers and flocks of birds. We took picnics and folding chairs, and settled down in the early evening sunshine, while members of the cast circulated doing a little in-character banter:

2013-07-18 18.53.29

The set-up was that they were the staff of an undertakers' company: Drakesmith and Graveston, services to the dead since 1822. They had been charged with conducting Jonathan Harker's funeral service, and were circulating around the mourners to enquire how we were connected with the deceased and sell us the following order of service for two florins:

Order of service

Two pounds were agreed to be an acceptable exchange rate for the florins, and of course the order of service was also the programme for the show. As the performance began, the undertakers explained that as part of the funeral service they would be reading out extracts from Jonathan Harker's diary at his family's request, and as they did so they switched into the roles of the characters from the story, acting it out pretty much as it unfolds within the book. The letters, telegrams, diary entries and newspaper articles written by other characters were explained as having been pasted into Harker's diary as a complete record of his experiences. And although I was a little unsure about the use of the undertakers as a sort of framing device for the main story, in fact it worked pretty well. In between scenes, they discussed the strange events which they had been reading about with one another, wondering what might come next and how they might feel in the same situation - basically acting much like the chorus in a Greek tragedy to help bridge the gap between the real life of the audience and the fantastical world of the story.

You can't, of course, have very much in the way of complicated stage machinery or even exits and entrances when you are staging an outdoor show, so the performance relied very much on simple devices and the use of the audience's imagination. Coffins doubled as beds, steps, benches on the cliff at Whitby and seats in a railway carriage, while their lids served as castle doors when required, and the performers swiftly cast aside the cloak of one character or donned the skirts of another as they changed roles. But it all worked very effectively to sweep the imagination from craggy Transylvania one moment to bustling Victorian London the next. Indeed, the cast consisted of only five actors, with most of them doubling up not only as undertakers, but also as at least two characters each within the story. But again, the constraints proved a virtue, adding extra layers to the story. I especially liked the casting of the same actor as both Van Helsing and Dracula, which of course prevented the two from ever meeting of course but did position them very nicely as matched adversaries who have more in common than they would like to admit.

I was busy eating my picnic and then sipping the summery rose cocktail which I had prepared for the first hour or so of the show, but after that I realised that an outdoor performance in the sunshine meant that I could easily take photos without disturbing anybody. So I got to work, tweeting the results and prompting a lot of people to tweet back in response saying how cool it looked and they wished that they were there. You'll have to imagine the scene which took place at Castle Dracula, in Whitby and on the good ship Demeter in the first half of the story while I was eating and drinking, but these are the high points of the rest of the show )

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Fred shall we dance)
I'd never even heard of this film when [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau texted me late yesteday afternoon to say that she and [livejournal.com profile] biascut were going to see it that evening at the Cottage Road cinema, and did I want to come along? But I'm glad I went, because it was great fun.

Set on the eve of the Second World War, it's a bit like a female version of Jeeves and Wooster, right down to the slashy sub-text. The only difference is that the Jeeves-figure (Miss Pettigrew) is merely pretending to be an accomplished social secretary - but still does a great job of getting the Bertie-figure (Delysia Lafosse) out of all sorts of terrible scrapes all the same. Oh, and they both end up forging meaningful heterosexual relationships at the end - which very carefully never happens in Jeeves and Wooster!

There's all the humour and costume rompery of J&W, too, including some extremely beautiful bias-cut gowns, and an apartment which reminded me so strongly of some of the designer boudoirs featured in this book that it felt like stepping inside its lavishly-illustrated pages. Also, Shirley Henderson (Ursula in Who's 'Love and Monsters' and Moaning Myrtle in the HP films) and CiarĂ¡n Hinds (Julius Caesar, yo!). And the Bechdel test is an easy pass, since most of the film revolves around a female-female relationship - and although they certainly talk about men plenty, they do talk about frocks and parties and their own career paths, too. All in all, much to be recommended.

Afterwards, we headed back to my place and invented our own cocktail - vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate and blueberry juice and a dash of lime - which we named the Miss Pettigrew in honour of the film, and then stayed up late chatting and giggling. Then, under the influence of said cocktail, it seemed like a good idea to clamber up dangerous steps and across rotting wooden platforms in the pitch dark, to get huge wardrobe boxes out of the shed and send them home with Glitzy and La Bias in a taxi.

How'm I supposed to manage when they both move over to Manchester, eh?

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