Town Hall Theatre, Galway
If there’s an air of the familiar about the horror motifs and plot elements in Stewart Roche’s play, this is not a problem in itself. What distinguishes excellent genre fiction from the merely mediocre, however, is how freshly it deploys or challenges those conventions. On that score Revenant is disappointing. Roche’s horror tropes are not reworked with any vigour and their potential is suffocated as a result.
This doesn’t make it an awful play, or prevent it from providing an entertaining experience. The charisma of its one-man performer (Simon Toal) and Roche’s flair for comic writing are both enjoyable. Yet even the play’s comic-horror aspects tend to promise more than they deliver. For instance, the plot involves a short film being made on an island off the coast of Mayo, a zombie film set during the Famine. The mere notion raises some hearty laughs. But it also raises audience expectations and, sadly, the potential for irreverence and/or depth goes abegging.
Instead, Roche pursues a formulaic suspense narration. (There are self-reflexive nods to both The Woman in Black and the stories of M R James.) Our narrator, the film’s obnoxious director, recounts his suspicions about its lead actor — the mysterious Vardel — who may be more than he seems. Anyone who has seen the Willem Dafoe movie Shadow of the Vampire will know where this is going. Anyone who has ever seen any horror movie at all will have a fair clue.
Nevertheless, there is much to admire. Toal excels with a range of characters, and some of the self-reflexive jokes about theatre and film are cheeky and charming. The film’s lead actress, we are assured, has not been turned into “a total pain in the arse” by her time working in countless plays in Dublin’s Gate theatre!
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