The Vampyre at the Etcetera Theatre (Camden Fringe)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This adaptation of John Polidori’s novella ‘The Vampyre’ is created and performed by Laurie Toczek. For those who do not know the background to the original work, it was written by Polidori (Lord Byron’s doctor). While holidaying in Lake Geneva a group of friends (which included Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley) were challenged by Byron to make up ghost stories to scare each other. Mary Shelley’s story led to the creation of ‘Frankenstein’, while allegedly Polidori’s novella ‘The Vampyre’ was stolen from the story Byron shared that evening (and Byron fell out with him over this theft). It is undeniable that the Byronic template helped shape the mythology of the aristocratic vampire (Tozcek provides all this interesting background context on the Camden Fringe page for ‘The Vampyre’).

Toczek’s ‘The Vampyre’ is less a play and more a dramatised reading. This requires Toczek to have memorised a dense and intricate novella, and even with the adaptations he has given himself a huge task. There are moments where he stumbles, but this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the piece, and Toczek will only benefit from having more opportunities to share his story with responsive audiences, as it will give him a chance to truly relax into his performance.

I really enjoyed Toczek’s ‘The Vampyre’, there is a warmth to his telling and his reenactments that kept me engaged. Projected background images give us a sense of being inside a book, as they resemble (and may well be) the style of illustrations you would expect to find in novels of that period. They are updated sparingly which is good, as it means they are never distracting. Sound effects are also peppered throughout the piece, with mixed results. I can understand the temptation to include them in order to take some of the storytelling weight off of Toczek’s shoulders, but I think he has the skill to carry off the piece more powerfully without them.

Having never read ‘The Vampyre’ I was engrossed in Toczek’s sharing of the story, as I experienced the inevitable tragedy of the piece unfolding, as powerless to stop it as our protagonist.

This would be a wonderful show to enjoy in an old gothic mansion after a wonderful meal, ideally in Winter with a roaring fire, preferably in a candlelit room and my personal choice would be with a large glass of red wine in my hand. Fortunately the Etcetera theatre is in the Oxford Arms pub and you can take drinks in with you. Just saying…

‘The Vampyre’ runs at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden until Sunday 15th August, with performances at 5.30pm

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