Little Angel Theatre
Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, is an 1872 Irish gothic novel that predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by over 25 years. In fact, I must confess I am not at all familiar with the novel but having seen Spud Theatre’s adaptation, it is easy to see the influence Le Fanu had on Stoker’s work.
Laura (Livvy Johnson) begins her narration by telling us the location of her home, which she shares with her father (Ed Corbet). A short time later, after a carriage accident, the Countess (Ozelm Marigold) leaves her daughter Carmilla (Christie-Leigh Emby) in their care as she has an urgent journey to undertake.
Carmilla, repeatedly described as languid, is anything but. We can see both the danger she poses as a dark shape circling her prey, but also the attraction between the two women and the struggle Laura has to perhaps even consider this, let alone embrace it. Both actresses play these games of cat and mouse well, leading to an evening of enjoyable gothic horror/fantasy.
I assume much of Laura’s narration is straight from the original book and at times it feels like a little less straight adaptation would have been appreciated – there is a great deal of exposition. Letting the cast and the staging carry more of the work and removing extraneous narration might be more effective. Having said that, Johnson is good and carries a lot of script. She is the only cast member always on stage and in a breakdown of the text, I’d bet she has by far the vast majority of the lines, even with all the other characters added up. There is some neat direction from Laurence Toczek, particularly towards the end of the play, with the cast moving nicely from narration via Laura to action – as if smoothly passing a baton.
For a Camden Fringe show where budgets tend to be low and sometimes it’s just an actor or two in a dark room with maybe one prop between them, well Spud Theatre have gone all in here. From the outset, the costumes are fab – just what you’d expect from a gothic fantasy. Everyone looks great and as there are seven in the cast and costume changes, I am even more impressed by the costuming efforts. Adding more, there is a soundtrack throughout – eerie mood-setting music as the house opens, then with music and sound effects (horse and carriage) as the story moves along. The lighting helps us change location easily in a small space and memorably turns darkly red at one point.
This was my first visit to the Little Angel Theatre and it is just lovely. The bar is small but welcoming (and by their own laughing admission more used to serving soft drinks for kids performances than a nice cider for me) and then the space inside – wow, really beautiful.
Finally, I’m sure the cast and crew of Carmilla were disappointed with the sparse audience last night, but the show must go on and there was no hint of disappointment from any of them in their performances. My thanks and appreciation to them, I hope Carmilla’s audience grows – it would be deserved.
Based on the novel by Sheridan Le Fanu
Adaptor & Director Laurence Toczek
Carmilla plays at Little Angel Theatre until 20 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.