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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Bowjangles: Dracula in Space


Genre: Adaptation, Comedy, Music, Musical Theatre, Physical Comedy

Venue: Gilded Balloon Patter House


Low Down

The stakes are high, as a talented string quartet encounter Dracula, with tremendously entertaining shenanigans aplenty


Bram Stoker’s infamous nineteenth century tale was not only a classic in its own right, its influence has proven pervasive for a century and a quarter since and shows no signs of relenting. Cinema, radio, television and literature. And Fringe theatre, as it turns out.

The stage is set with two partially transparent screens left and right and a sort of command gantry centre downstage, its multi-use becoming evident as the show progresses. There are no other props. The quartet take the stage, with a flourish, and theatrically count down to the opening number, a rendition of one of the movements of Holst’s The Planets. We learn that post-Covid, the Bowjangles collective have embarked upon a space journey (hence Holst’s opening). Their voyage is interrupted by a call from another space ship, The Dementer – Stoker fans will know this was the ship that transported Dracula to Whitby Bay. Indeed, details of Stoker’s tale are alluded to throughout the piece. Dr A Cula appears to be a benefactor, never unwelcome in the arts. Dr Cula is female – Bowjangles’ retelling taking on a gender swap. She welcomes violist number 2 aboard. A series of cat and mouse events ensue, with the denouement of Dracula’s demise… or does it ? Not all is as it seems.

The quarter’s appearance, in matching spacesuits, armed for music, gave the initial impression of a classical version of Devo, confirmed by the ensemble’s anarchic, visually appealing performance. The first thing to say is that all four members are brilliant string players ; the comedic counter-balance to the show does not undermine that. The viola is treated with derision by the other three performers, clearly regarding the instrument as inferior to theirs. The viola player is removed from the team, akin to an unknown actor on Star Trek being transported to a planet with the viewer knowing their demise is nigh. This is not the last nod to the Star Trek franchise.

The troupe (Ezme Gaze, Bertie Anderson Haggart, Oliver Izod and Mitch McGugan) convey their quasi-rock opera tale using theatrical story-telling, physical theatre, puppetry briefly, dance but most strikingly comedy. Their energy is relentless, their skill staggering (the cellist plays while dancing) and they stylistically break the fourth wall. The show is a riot, interspersed with amusing merchandise upselling, the gags raining down on the audience, e.g. : “why don’t you sit down ? We don’t have any chairs”. The piece is littered with reference points to all manner of popular culture, including Red Dwarf, Take That, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Kill Bill, Star Wars, Austin Powers and tellingly, at the finale, Scooby Doo.

And yet, at the end of this vampire space musical romp, there is a striking societal message from Bowjangles. Classical music has had its share of misogyny and elitism. But the narrative strings were being pulled all along by the discarded female viola player, whose skills had been denigrated and did not have a voice. That landed. This infectious, charismatic, slick show must be seen.