Sunday 04th December

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The Jack Studio Theatre: The Mystery of Irma Vep

| Comedy, Hidden London, Special Events, Theatre | 17/12/2013

Irma Vep
Lord and Lady of the Manor. Photo by Tony Nandi.

Showing until January 4, 2014 at The Jack Studio Theatre

I welcomed the traditional yet cordially open stage as we entered a spacious studio to the strains of Beethoven Seven. The set by Karl Swinyard tended to the naive but lent to an already-established atmosphere attested by a strike of lightning behind frosty French windows. Get the picture?

Hilarious and stupid, ‘Irma Vep’ doesn’t pretend to be great literature though makes much pretence to it. Written by Charles Ludlam in the style of a ‘Penny Dreadful’ its sole purpose seems to be dreadful in every sense; a love-child of ‘Carry On Screaming’ and ‘The Uninvited’ (a dash of ‘Cleo’ and Karloff come later). Miraculously, middle-aged men dressing as stiff Victorian ladies still does the trick: the sight of Lady Enid in a pink frilly nightie fartingly funny. The ultimate two hander, it overdoes every feminine affectation in excruciating detail. And in the two-way-mirror the butch-drag is just as over-accommodated. Jonathan Kemp and William Kempsell delight in outdoing the other although both emerge victorious.

William Kempsell as his altered ego.

If few actual belly-laughs are to be had this is rib-tickling fare, a thorough feather-dustering, the withering housekeeper beating-out the family history with “I don’t know who they go back to but they’ve been descending for centuries.” Thus we descend with them, the titters trowelled-on thick as the pan-stick. How it’s possible to create a riot in duet you wouldn’t believe, hats off to director Kate Bannister. The quick-change-act is worth the price of admission alone and I’ve never seen a curtain-call on the fringe – the ambience of the packed house as uplifted as Lady Enid’s cleavage. This doyen of alternative panto is, I concede, top of the tree.

The Studio Theatre, pub and restaurant is four stops on the Overground from Canada Water. Ten minutes walk from Honor Oak Park.

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