Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'Vampire Hospital Waiting Room' at the Arts Theatre,

"Vampire Hospital Waiting Room" is fun to say out loud: each syllable tripping off the tongue in pleasurably tongue-twisting manner. It's apparently even more fun to sing; the musical opening and closing with a perfectly enunciated, doom-laden repetition of the four surprisingly catchy words.  By the end of the night you'll humming the tune as you step out into the night.

Set in an NHS hospital, the (extremely silly) plot revolves around Dr Bloom's (Joe McArdle) quest for vampiredom. A textbook mad scientist, he's become obsessed with being bitten by the 'vampire lord', thus gaining not just the ability to pull of a full-leather outfit, but also immortality. To this end he's been poring over dusty old tomes looking for omens that will herald the lord's arrival.

And he thinks tonight's the night! Unfortunately, threatening to spoil his excitement are a smattering of boring non-vampire patients. A soused rockabilly Scot (Martin MacLennan) s is soon joined by a polite priest (John Rushton) suffering an embarrassing case of the stab wounds, each querying the frazzled 'Sexy Nurse' (Abby Jackson) when, exactly, the doctor will be ready to treat them.

Things come to a head with the arrival of the comatose Artie (Craig Methven). A louche millionaire, he was driving around romancing his bubbly secretary (Imogen Brabant) when a wall came out of nowhere and rendered him insensate. Matters are complicated when his wife (Roz Ford) arrives, sinisterly rattling on about how horrible it would be if he died and all his lovely money would be inherited by her. More pertinently for Dr. Bloom - are those scratches on Artie's wrists a symbol of arcane power? Could this drooling vegetable secretly be his much-longed for Vampire Lord?

It's an understatement to say that the show doesn't take itself particularly seriously. At a svelte hour and fifteen minutes, Vampire Hospital Waiting Room doesn't muck about. Performed as if trying to beat the clock, the show delivers a high-energy shot of slapstick, scenery-chewing overacting, catchy tunes, groan-worthy puns and characters that're so archetypal most of them don't even have names.

The light-hearted breeziness pays off and you quickly understand why this went down so well at the Edinburgh Fringe. The lion's share of the success is down to the cast's comfort in performing with one another. For example, Joe McArdle's doctor goes off on some very strange performative tangents; constantly playing out  some facial expression or vocal tic at the expense of whoever he's playing against - yet though his interactions are somewhat sadistic there's a cool camaraderie and trust visible at all times in the rest of the cast.

This loose improvisational style reaches its peak when Dr Bloom is 'testing' the comatose Artie to see if he's really a vampire - if he is then he shouldn't react to anything. As he's tickled with a sweaty rubber glove a smile appears on Craig Methven's face, soon followed by quivering shoulders and tears from his eyes as he does his level best not to react to anything that's happening to him. All too soon the audience is in stitches, his suppressed laughter infectious.

Though that's the high point, Vampire Hospital Waiting Room never truly puts a foot wrong. Sure there's gags that skim by sans-laughter, but the fun mood is maintained from start to finish, helped by a handful of toe-tapping songs - the best being Love is like a Car Crash (though Let's Put the Fun in Funeral isn't far behind). Each of these is built around repeated rhyming lyrical flourishes, most enjoyable when you're all but certain what the next line is going to be - but confounded.

Simply put, Vampire Hospital Waiting Room is a damn good time. The cast are charismatic and possessed of admirable comic timing, the music is jauntily written and the plot lands on just the right side of barmy. Theatrically it's more of an amuse-bouche than a main course, but nonetheless extremely satisfying.


Vampire Hospital Waiting Room is at the Arts Theatre until 21 November 2015. Tickets here.

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