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Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

Photo by  Zaina Ahmed

NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR, is a 1922 German Expressionist silent horror film, Directed by F.W, Murnau and starring Max Schreck as vampire Count Orick. The creators were sued by the Bram Stoker family – the author of DRACULA – 1897 – for copyright infringement, which they hadn’t sought to acquire, and this was despite their attempts to disguise the source, by changing names of characters and the narrative. The penalty demanded was that all copies of the film were ordered to be burnt. However, one print had already been distributed around the world. Copies of it were made, subsequently, and propelled it, over the passing years, into cult status. It is an highly esteemed and influential – EMPIRE magazine rated it as number 21 on the list of The Top 100 Films of All Time, in 2010. The original score was made by Hans Erdman and is lost.

Taking this information Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari, frames his production around the search by an academic for a verifiable copy of the original film. His ‘performers’: Lucy Burke, Jeremy Campese, Lulu Howes and Annie Stafford, Designers Victor Kalka (Set and Costume) and Veronique Bennett (Lighting) have developed in workshop, scenes that fit around the ‘title cards’ of the silent film with, it seems, some spattering knowledge of the action of the actual film, and inspired by the new score composed by Melbourne artist, Justin Gardam.

This Symphony is titled ‘A Fractured Symphony’, the word ‘fractured’ being key to understanding the liberty in direction that the scenes we see, took. Like The FRACTURED FAIRY TALES sequence that featured in the 1959-64 television cartoon animation: THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY, BULWINKLE AND FRIENDS, that took, in its omnibus format, famous fairy stories and told slightly warped versions, often with politically astute twists and turns that tickled the brain as well as the funny bone, Montague Basement has fractured the 1922 NOSFERATU: A Symphony of Horror, and improvised and spoofed contemporary situations to bridge the gap between the original title cards from the Murnau source. This is where the cleverness of the conceit of creativity starts and in the experience of this production, unfortunately, ends.

This public exposure of these workshop developments is, it seems in the performance at OLD 505, premature. The segments are mostly regurgitation of popular political critique, attaching itself to subject matters that are now over trodden with exemplary cliche that really are most tiresome with their familiarity and telegraphed cuteness and wittiness, further compounded with overegging knowingness about the joke said or about to be said. (Annie Stafford is a reliable ‘comic’ who uses a knowing self deprecation as tool for cueing the laughter – she is a master of this technique, which first came to our attention in her performance as Mash in STUPID FUCKING BIRD, to be followed with the same performance in WHOSE UTERUS IS IT ANYWAY?, and, now, here). All of the actors, however, display performer technique and skills that are not up to the difficult task they have set themselves.

To understand the possible sophistication of the ‘target’ area and form, a viewing and a study, of say, the Adam McKay films VICE or THE BIG SHOT, or, the recent THE DEATH OF STALIN, might give some purview of what to aim for in content and acting method. In this text of NOSFERATU, none of the scenes, or the playing of them, by any of these actors, have any sophistication that merits admiration. The texts don’t appear to have had much drafting or edit to find shape and subtly for an audience, and the actors do not appear to have been guided by a unifying Director’s hand and so there is little sense of structural relationship from one episode to the next. The text is a structural mess of many, many disconnected worlds purporting to tell the Murnau story as well as delivering an hilarious contemporary political/social commentary – NOT.

Another sign of the prematurity of this ‘work showing’ is the lack of thought of how the production is going to move from one environment to another without having to suspend the action in torturous digressions to facilitate scene change of props etc. As there are an enormous number of scenes (or, at least it was experienced that way) it is an interminable interference and distraction. Director, Saro Lusty-Cavallari, has had no forsighted plan to construct an integrated scenario that will keep his work fluid and buoyant – the play comes nearly to a halt every time we move from one ‘title’ card to the next. Let us not really comment on the ineptitude of the transference into the last scene of the play, or of the last scene itself – we had sat without interval (when we might have escaped) for nearly 90 minutes by this time, and simply endured it all with a dwindling empathy for the Company’s artists’ efforts. “Good grief”, I thought, “these poor actors were destined to repeat it all for many, many more nights.” I hope the Director went through it every night with them, just out of respect for his actors’ trials to try to sustain the demands asked of them.

A lot of hard work has been done, but there is need for a lot more work to be done, and maybe a movement in re-casting to find actors with the necessary skills to pull this very particular genre of comedy off. There is more aspiration on view than actual skill – both in vocal and physical character acting, and in the playwriting.

NOSFERATU, was certainly ‘a fractured symphony’: a true symphony of Horror – a ‘horrible’ night in the theatre.

The play out music, the audience exit music. is a recording of the MONSTER MASH from THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, I thought it was amusing, considering what I had just seen, and thought a word adjustment to make it a MONSTER SMASH (UP) might be more appropriate to indicate the achievement.