ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Aislinn Clarke CREATIVE PRODUCER Reggie Chamberlain-King MUSICAL DIRECTOR Nick Boyle STARS David Fleming; Xander Duffy STAGE 4 July
Established in 2010, Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre is an audio theatre company devoted to invoking the spirit of vintage radio suspense plays. With their ingenious recreations of radio productions from a bygone era, the troupe afford us a glimpse into the past and, despite the unavoidably static set-up, command attention and intrigue thanks to quality writing and performances. Previous productions include ambitious adaptations of John Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps, Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”.
Their most recent, An Evening of Irish Horror, was a suitably spooky double bill featuring adaptations of Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Green Tea” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest”. The former, a chilling short story from Le Fanu’s classic collection of Victorian ghost tales In A Glass Darkly, tells of a timid clergyman who is hounded by a demonic spectral monkey, visible only to him. In desperation he confides in occult detective Dr. Hesselius. “Dracula’s Guest”, a famously excised segment from Stoker’s classic Gothic novel, Dracula, details a creepy encounter between an unnamed narrator (presumably Jonathan Harker) and Count Dracula, in wolf form, by the grave of the undead Countess Dolingen of Gratz in a remote cemetery during a terrible storm.
Opening with “Green Tea”, the longer of the two pieces, the stage was bathed in atmospheric lighting and boasted a minimal set-up. Actor Xander Duffy’s tremulous performance perfectly conveyed his character’s psychological deterioration as the monkey attempts to drive him to suicide. Moments when actors whispered the monkey’s commands to “do it” were genuinely unnerving, as their hushed chatterings gradually rose to a clamorous yet deeply insidious cacophony. Throughout the piece, on-stage musicians helped further establish and build atmosphere, while mounting tension was backed by train whistles and a conductor counting down the various stations as Dr. Hesselius’ journeys to visit his patient become ever urgent.
After a brief interval, the troupe returned to perform “Dracula’s Guest”. Framing the story is an increasingly nightmarish narrative in which Harker tries to recall the terrifying incident that resulted in his incapacitation and confinement to an inn, the landlord of which seems none too keen for him to leave. Letters and diary entries mingle with half-formed recollections and flashbacks masquerading as terrible nightmares as the stage was bathed in a livid red glow and the mystery built assuredly to a spine-chilling denouement.
The intimate setting of Belfast’s Crescent Arts Centre lent itself well to the production. Patrons, huddled around candlelit tables in the darkness, were easily drawn into the stories. That these stories were told in such an ingenious manner, only made the experience all the more immersive.