The thing with satire is that you either love it, or you don’t. Not always a fan of the slapstick and the intentionally overdramatised, this reviewer had her doubts about the “full frontal lunacy” of The Mystery of Irma Vep… but was pleasantly and delightfully surprised.
Admittedly, the play starts off slowly and with such thick accents that the ear takes some strain in deciphering the dialogue. But once the plot starts rolling along and the crazy cast starts the ludicrous reveal, the sheer brilliance of Irma Vep becomes evident, and the rollercoaster of action and laughter is fully engaged. The stage design is clever and effective, aiding the only two actors, Jonathan Roxmouth and Weslee Swain Lauder, to move seamlessly between their multiple characters. As they exit one door, a lightning fast costume change happens behind the stage walls, and within a heartbeat someone else walks back onto the stage. With each costume change comes a full change in accent, gait, and character – with hilarious results.
The Mystery of Irma Vep draws heavily on the pulp horror genre with a smattering of whodunit. Between Jonathan and Weslee, they cover a plethora of quirky characters. This penny dreadful inspired story features the tales of Lord Edgar, the Egyptologist and his new wife, Lady Enid. The first wife, Irma Vep, was killed in a freak werewolf accident, and the mystery of the murder as well as lycanthropy thickens as the moon grows fuller. With a short trip to Egypt as an interlude, these two wardrobe wizards change seamlessly, dizzyingly, between eight different characters. The play even pokes fun at itself, when Lady Enid calls for Nicodemus, the groundsman, but admits that he can’t come onstage “for obvious reasons”.
Sure, satire isn’t for everyone, but it’s easy to enjoy this gag-heavy comic style murder mystery. If not for the great stage design or convoluted storyline, go see it for the absolute mastery of the multiple personalities of these two great actors.
The Mystery of Irma Vep is on at Theatre on the Bay until 19 August 2017.