Vampires, witchcraft and an irresistibly fluffy puppy – the world of Carpe Jugulum is an intriguing place. The play tells the tale of a bloody-thirsty family of vampires, the Magpyrs, who take over Lancre Castle, along with the minds of the town’s inhabitants. Obviously, those trying to save the day come in the form of a coven of local witches, who attempt to thwart their devious plot. Who will prevail, this pipe-smoking, tea-drinking trio or the fiendish blood-suckers of old who have seemingly adapted their ways to the modern world?
At the beginning, the play was admittedly confusing. A disappointing lack of set or props did an injustice to a large cast of twenty-five (including the dog) that otherwise worked hard to produce a vibrant story. During the only significant set change, the vampires were still talking on stage and it felt like an unnecessary distraction that left the audience a little confused. Moreover, without clear visual context for the characters, it was left to the dialogue to explain what was going on – and at times this was difficult to keep up with. Some jokes were lost or fell flat due to the lack of pause for laughter, a falter in accents or brisk or understated delivery. This, combined with the common slippage of words from a few key cast members, gave the show an unfortunate sense of amateurism that did not meet the usual Ooook! standard.
Nonetheless, Carpe Jugulum got progressively better once the plot line became a little clearer. The mob for hire was hilarious. Ironically, the presence of Death on stage (Lawrence Stanley) also provided light-hearted relief, and his costume deserves a mention, with green lights for eyes. Indeed, there were touches of Spamalot-like humour in moments, such as the Reverend’s dramatic fall (played by Harry Twining) or when the Count told the stage manager off for playing with the lightning effects. It was laugh-out-loud comedy for sure and a host of side characters such as Hamish Inglis playing the country bumpkin, Leon Hanser as the mob orchestrator and Mikey Bicarregui as the Old Count, brought life to a play mostly about the undead.
At the mid-point in term, the debut appearance of four-legged thespian Ember, as Scraps, was much adored. The audience was captivated by her convincing portrayal, lolling tongue and very, very fluffy tail, and even the cast couldn’t keep their hands off her. The Queen (Hannah Sanderson) did an admirable job of controlling Ember’s mischief, despite her playing with her dress. Scraps’ owner, Igor the hunch-backed servant, made from the body parts of his ancestors, was played marvellously by Uday Duggal and was a clear audience-favourite too.
But in my book, the baddies really stole the show. Drawling, conniving and kitted out in red and black, the vampires caught the true magic of Terry Pratchett. Behind those round sunglasses, the Count de Magpyr, played by the excellent Dan Hodgkinson, was the best kind of scarlet-scarved, cunning vampire and truly put the Cullens to shame. Having said this, Zac Tiplady as Vlad de Magpyr did retain some of Edward Cullen’s Blue Steel in his role as, the words of the programme, a ‘smouldering sex object’. An effective use of red lighting and smoke machines produced a similarly ominous feel to that achieved in Sweeney Todd earlier last term, and the use of stark spotlight added to the ominous vampiric aura.
Overall, the audience, who practically filled out the Assembly Rooms, was genuinely enthusiastic. There were layers of comedy that clearly provided something for everyone and although major elements felt very student-made, it had won me over by the end. Not quite bewitching, but certainly effective mid-term relief.
‘Carpe Jugulum’ will be performed in the Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thursday, 16th February until Saturday, 18th February at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Michael Nower