Stuart Roche brings old-fashioned horror to a contemporary film set

Simon Toal in Revenant: a fine comic actor who can seem at once commanding and crumpled

Simon Toal in Revenant: a fine comic actor who can seem at once commanding and crumpled

Thu, Nov 21, 2013, 17:50

New Theatre, Dublin

Exactly what kind of monster are we dealing with in Stuart Roche’s new play for Purpleheart, a contemporary horror story with an old-fashioned sensibility? When we first meet him, all the signs point to one mesmerising legend: charismatic, seductive, eternal, driven by an awful, lustful hunger, feeding in the shadows from the lifeblood of others. He is a film director.

In an entertaining solo performance by Simon Toal, a fine comic actor who can seem at once commanding and crumpled, this director is Carter, who, like any self-respecting revenant, is in need of a comeback. That this should take the form of a micro-budget zombie movie set during the Irish famine is one of Roche’s best jokes, but it is also essential to his careful plotting.

When Carter loses his leading man shortly before shooting begins on a remote Mayo island, he finds a mysterious replacement. Vardell is an ageless figure, so mysterious that he has no IMDB credits, but a magnetism somewhere between Gabriel Byrne and Keith Richards, and, in Toal’s performance, a voice as slow and husky as Batman arguing in a library. He’s also fine with nudity. He’s hired.

Following Roche’s recent stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Judge’s House, another comic-horror set among film-makers, audience suspicions ought to be high. Roche’s text is full of fresh quips and media in-jokes, yet remarkably (perhaps refreshingly) free of self-reference. Carter, for instance, doesn’t even seem familiar enough with the conventions of horror to recognise he is in one.

Roche’s monologue moves with the detail and subjective perspective of a novel and sometimes the jump-cutting of a shooting script (“Long day tomorrow. Train. Boat.”). As director, Roche seems more interested in using performance as a sort of film projector – where Toal conveys the intrigue, uncomprehending glimpses of strange events, and slow realisations on to an imagined screen. Often, in fact, the production seems to ask for video projections rather than its occasional sound effects, where Roche’s artfully constructed “jump” moments would find better pay-off.

“It’s not a social commentary,” Carter insists of his movie, and, likewise, Roche offers his play not as an allegory but a well-spun yarn. Fans of Stoker will savour some delicate lifts in a way that only fans of Scooby-Doo will truly appreciate a villain’s late expository monologue. But there’s something much funnier and darker beneath the surface; a moral satire about art where any epitome of evil will be indulged, so long as they are consummate professionals. Until November 30