Taking its lead from Murnau's 1922 vampire classic, Nosferatu, itself an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker's legendary, Dracula, Proper Job Theatre's new production eschew castles and abbeys and instead give the tale a more nautical feel.
To the haunting cello music and vocals of Anna Scott we find ourselves on the pitch black deck of the Russian vessel, Demeter, as it makes its doomed final voyage from Varna to Whitby with a mysterious cargo. Of those who set out to brave the ocean, a series of mysterious deaths leave only three remaining crewmen: the Captain (Brendan Weakliam), devout Christian Peter (Tim Cunningham) and the superstitious and fearful Leishman (Rick Ferguson). To the sound of mournful shanties and the gritted teeth cheer of worksongs they go about their now daily duties, disposing of those who have died in the night and hoping only to survive the last, dark hour before the dawn and the final day of sailing.
Whilst the Captain, a man of science, does his best to keep the ship on course, Leishman becomes convinced that the skipper is responsible for the crew deaths. Certain that the Captain should die but afraid to take action, he tries to convince Peter that he must do the deed, that the man who steers their ship is the devil himself.
In the hands of playwright Ian McMillan time is an ephemeral and terrifying concept; the sky seems never to lighten, the dawn the men seek never to arrive and all the time something lurks in the hold. The script is lyrical and poetic and in the hands of the performers, all of whom utterly inhabit their roles, we find ourselves drawn into a world of terror and superstition and cannot help but ask whether one of these men is the vampire that we know is hiding below decks.
The 80 minute production has no interval and as the clouds grow thicker and the songs more mournful, the tension of the crew is palpable and bewitching. It is heightened by Sarah Beaton's dramatic and expressionistic sets, all jagged lines and sharp angles that suggest a boat that has already wrecked. We cannot see what the ship is sailing into, only the darkness beyond the prow.
All of the cast possess strong and evocative singing voices and Anna Scott's Voice of the Sea provides a haunting and unforgettable soundtrack to the horror unfolding on stage. With Halloween approaching, or even if it weren't, this is a production I recommend wholeheartedly; I can't wait for Proper Job's next theatrical excursion.
Nosferatu tour dates
Production photographs courtesy of Richard Mulhearn atwww.richardmulhearn.org