the new theatre, dublin
Stewart Roche's first full-length play is a comic-horror take on the idea of the revenant: someone who returns from death or exile. Carter, a film director desperate to return to the bright lights and red carpet from the doldrums of B-movies and corporate advertising is shooting a zombie movie set during The Famine on an island off the Mayo coast. He has the perfect location in a country house on the rainswept island, but has only secured it for three days. Also eager to make a return to movies is Carter's new leading man, the Byronic, and peculiarly ageless, Vardell, who is both a magnificent help and an ominous hindrance.
It's a neat and, in the hands of Simon Toal (pictured) playing Vardell, Carter, his film crew and an ornery ferry captain, a comically fruitful idea combining gothic horror gore with a satire on movie-making and acting.
Much of the narration is delivered in clipped throwaway style, which allows for both speed and a slow, minute dwelling on detail. With just a few lines Carter compresses a whole day's filming of zombies in various modes of rampage, while later he transports us to a murder-hole within a cliff, where we feel each drop of blood drip and candle-wax painfully thicken.
Roche's script is a spikenard of playful savagery: "blood, semen, vomit. I'll never work at the Royal Court again" says Vardell, along with a wealth of sardonic wit from the weary Carter as he deals with Method-obsessed minor characters and his posh-boy producer.
Toal, with a bevvy of characters to exercise his finely-honed comic talents upon, from the dry but skittish Carter to the twitchy, goggle-eyed ferry captain, is a one-man continuum of entertainment. Vardell is the most inimitable piece of parody, an amalgam of smouldering menace and lupine sex appeal, a hilarious cross between Oliver Reed and Count Dracula, and all in casual wear.
But despite the parody and the constant light-fingered mickey-taking, Toal somehow lowers the temperature while raising the comedy level, his performance blending the spine-tingling shiver with the knowing smile.
He's helped by Mark Hendricks' sound, a subterranean bass that bubbles in and out of attention, and Stewart Roche's direction, which gets maximum effect from minimum space, props and movement. At one point, Carter hangs from a cliff trying to read his e-mail while in another, genuinely chilly, scene he realises there's something odd about Vardell's dental work as he studies the film footage on an invisible laptop.