Vlad the Impaler

Richard Crane's latest play takes as its subject the life of Vlad the Impaler, famous Romanian prince and the inspiration behind Dracula, blending folk songs, the recreation of key scenes, and magical realism to give a sense of the life of this historical figure.

Crane’s dialogue is beautiful, blending naturalism and surrealism with real skill. This is particularly effective in the characters of the impaled Turk (Anna-Maria Nabirye) and the impaled Romanian (Iain Robertson).

Crane’s dialogue is beautiful, blending naturalism and surrealism with real skill. This is particularly effective in the characters of the impaled Turk (Anna-Maria Nabirye) and the impaled Romanian (Iain Robertson). They effortlessly move from matey, accessible dialogue to Beckett-style strangeness, always bringing the audience with them.

Jack Klaff's Vlad is a solidly commanding presence, and his singing voice is positively mesmerising. Robertson is given both the most interesting bit parts, and is clearly having a great deal of fun squeezing all the laughs out of them. By comparison, Nabirye isn't given all that much to do; her roles are predominantly functional – they exist to give Vlad someone to talk to, rather than for their own sakes – but she makes the most of them and is a compelling presence on the stage. Unfortunately, the most dramatic part of any of her roles comes when an act of violence is performed on her. She plays it brilliantly, but it is a shame that the only serious act of violence in the play involves brutalising the only woman in it.

Jonathan Scott’s set is just right. The cardboard cutouts are painted in almost cartoonish style, evoking the horror they represent but making no attempts to look like the real thing. This perfectly suits the liminal tone of the play - part real, part folk tale. It has an alienating effect which chimes perfectly with the uncomfortable tone.

The play feels like it exists at a crossroads. It wants to be a folk tale, complete with strange songs, magical realism and non-linear story telling. Yet it also wants to be a biography, giving accurate, interesting information about Vlad the Impaler. Plus it also wants to be a political commentary on our current situation, drawing parallels and elucidating the politics of 2015.

The result is a play with a yo-yoing tone and not quite enough of any of its elements. The historical data is crammed into short sections and risks feeling like info-dumping, while the comedic tone of the political commentary is completely at odds with the horror of the rest. In trying to do all these things, it doesn't do any of them really well.

None the less, this is a laudably ambitious play with a broad scope. It is full of interesting ideas, even if it doesn't quite do them justice.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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The Blurb

“My stake thrusts its roots deep into the soul of this nation”.

Vlad has had a mixed press throughout history. In the Ceausescu years, Dracula stories were banned & Vlad was celebrated as the founding father of his country, who stood alone against the superpower.

Unexpected humour laced with a disturbing insight into the roots of the divisions between East & West make for a tale of a thoroughly modern monster. Vlad will partake of his lunch with his impalees, as legend has it, while the audience partake of play, pie and pint.

Playwright Richard Crane and director Faynia Williams have together won a record nine Edinburgh Fringe Firsts. Their company Brighton Theatre was the first to move from Fringe to Main Festival with Brothers Karamazov, which transferred to the West End and toured the world. Productions include Satan’s Ball, Gogol, and Vanity, published Oberon Books. Williams and Crane were the first Artistic Director & Dramaturg of the Tron Theatre. Williams is a BBC Producer (Pina Bausch, Joan Littlewood docs) & Crane is former National Theatre Resident Dramatist & Royal Court Literary Manager. They have just returned from British Council tour of South America.