Following the show’s great success during La Mama’s 2016 Explorations series, Kle Zeyn Theatre rebirths one of the most controversial vampire tales of all time in a new season at La Mama Courthouse. Carmilla follows the life of Laura, an impressionable girl who remains secluded with her father in an Austrian castle, and her gradual infatuation with their newest guest, against the backdrop of a haunting musical score.
Laura (Georgia Brooks) and her father (Joshua Porter) are irrevocably shaken out of their peaceful routine when General Spielsdorf (John Cheshire) breaks news of the death of his daughter, Bertha (Danielle Carey). While there is no resolute cause, the General wholeheartedly believes that Bertha’s death was the result of something more sinister than one might initially think. As Carmilla (Teresa Duddy) tightens her grip on Laura by the day, the race to save her life ignites a suspense in audiences that lingers as the house lights go up.
Firstly, the production must be commended on their ability to illicit such visceral emotions out of their audiences. It was not uncommon to feel a shiver, or goose-bumps prickling up your arm during certain portions of the performance. As the show progressed, it became increasingly clear that director Karen Wakeham set out to use the entirety of the Courthouse’s space, the execution of which was brilliant. The initial confusion that arose out of the positioning of the music stands at the beginning was quickly erased when ‘Carmilla!’ echoed throughout the space with eerie resonance. The show’s lighting designer, Michael Rowe, complemented Wakeham’s vision superbly, with sporadic moments of darkness adding to the sensorial qualities of Carmilla. Wendy Drowley and Gwendoline Paras superb costumes allowed the era of the piece to.
The true strength of the show, however, stems from the dizzying relationship between Duddy and Brooks. Duddy’s slow, cat-like speech and languid movements embody the characterisation of the sinister Carmilla, and erase all possible thought that one person could be as seductive as she is. In contrast, Brooks’ energetic, bright speech typifies Laura’s innocence, and her subtle decline in health is handled with immense care and thought. At no point did the relationship between the two protagonists seem forced, or for show, as both women utterly triumphed in the face of two characters who can be played completely stereotypically. As such, the gentlemen were somewhat shadowed in their performances. Cheshire’s portrayal of Spielsdorf was impassioned and held up against the Carmilla and Laura, however, Porter’s presence seemed overwhelmed by his fellow cast members, as his jovial nature seemed inauthentic in comparison with such intense portrayals.
Despite so many positive elements, the show’s incorporation of live music was the most jarring aspect of the performance. Initially, the composition heightened the mysterious atmosphere of Carmilla, and established an intricate aural element. As the performance progressed, however, it became more of a distraction than a benefit. At certain moments, small pieces of music interrupted the dialogue in what appeared to be a forced manner. Towards the end of the play, I found myself annoyed that the drama was being severed by unnecessary periods of music. While the music itself was beautifully composed, its affect upon the overall performance could be diminished if it was reserved for transitional moments. It must be said, however, that the oscillation between music and drama was executed incredibly well, so well done to conductor Tom Pugh.
Overall, Carmilla is a play that so beautifully explores the concept of seduction within the parameters of the classic vampire tale. It will thrill you, shock you and scare you, but most of all, it will entertain you. After all, don’t we all love a bit of vampire drama?