Photo by Gillian Berry
The Blue Room Theatre
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Sometimes you don’t want Shakespeare. Sometimes you don’t want Mamet or Miller or experimental experiential theatre. Sometimes you just want to watch a monster chew his way through an assortment of rude mechanicals, and that’s what you get with writer/director/producer Levon J. Pollinelli’s blood-soaked stage production. Oh, and you also get songs, because it’s a musical.
Yes, like name-checked influence Sweeney Todd, Werewolf Priest! combines carnage and catchy tunes in telling the tale of the titular clergyman (Sven Ironside), who tends to the spiritual maladies of the the small hamlet of Huntersville, back in the glorious pseudo-Victorian neverwhen beloved of Universal and Hammer horror movies alike. Father Hank is in love with Brooke (Siobhan Dow-Hall), daughter of the Mayor (Adrian J. Lowe), but she has been promised in marriage to self-aggrandising “explorer,” George Waggner (Magnus Danger Magnus).
These soap opera shenanigans are further complicated when Hank is attacked by the beast that stalks the wilderness outside of the village and inherits the werewolf’s curse. As the bodies pile up and Waggner vows to slay the beast, Hank seeks a cure for his condition with the help of eccentric Doctor Talbot (Stephen Lee).
Werewolf Priest! is an ambitious undertaking. Although the stage is small and the set dressing limited, the play makes good use of props and numerous scene changes (perhaps a few too many, to be honest) to give the show a real sense of scope and variety. The songs are big, memorable sing-along numbers for the most part, and it’;s easy to imagine a bigger, grander production somewhere down the track – which is by no means a diss on its current incarnation.
Although the play initial struggles with finding a consistent tone, the arrival of Magnus’s Waggner jerks the proceedings up into camp territory, so broadly does he play his cowardly, conniving villain (there’s more than a touch of Harry Flashman to his performance). This counterpoints the sincere, emotional turns offered by Ironside and Dow-Hall, who handle the difficult task of creating some kind of emotional gravity amongst all the gore and pageantry with aplomb. Lee also acquits himself well as the creepy/kindly Doctor Talbot, particularly during a delightfully gross autopsy scene.
The makeup and practical effects on display are effective in a spookhouse kind of way – never photorealistic but always in keeping with the tone of the piece. Of course, we’re all here to see the monster effects, and the final revelation does not disappoint. All up, Werewolf Priest! is a hell of a romp, and well worth the price of admission.