Re-Animator The Bloody Musical, The Drayton Arms

There’s a trailer for an American version of Re-Animator The Musical that features a large cast, impressive songs and a heavy dose of blood and gore that makes it look like it’s a delight, at least if you’re fond of musical parodies of daft comedy horror films. As it goes they’re one of my favourite genres, so it was incredibly frustrating to find out that this was a different adaptation, and one which has very little to do with either the Stuart Gordon film or the original Lovecraft story.

I should point out however that I’m only reviewing the first 45 minutes of this production, and perhaps this is unfair, perhaps the second half suddenly improved, but half way through the play I couldn’t stand a single moment more, so when the cast briefly left the stage, and four other audience members stood up and left, I quickly followed behind them, leaving a production before it had ended for the very first time in my life.

It’s difficult to begin to describe just why I left as there’s so, so, so many reasons. But the main one is the horribly homophobic aspects of many of the attempts at humour. The initial set up is that Herbert West is trying to reanimate the dead, has an all but mute female assistant (more on that later) and a skull that is seemingly sentient and voiced by an actor off stage. And so many of the jokes are about Victor and the skull having sex together, sometimes Victor boasts about it, but then suddenly denies it ever happened despite the skull giving a list of each and every occasion, and the homophobia is horrible and bleak.

The play also seems to have absolutely no plot, as the actor playing Herbert West rants away about how he’s desperate to re-animate the dead but has so far failed over and over again, and he’s incredibly jealous of Victor Frankenstein who apparently now lives in the same town and is trying to do the same thing. He’s aided by an assistant who wears a nurses costume that I presume was bought from a sex shop in the nineteen nineties as it bares very little resemblance to the real thing, but the character mostly stays silent, sometimes trying to sleep, occasionally picking up props and looking at them nervously, but her presence is never explained and it just feels bizarre, like someone’s wondered in off the street and now refuses to leave the stage.

When the jokes aren’t based around either skull related oral sex or West’s hatred of Frankenstein it’s largely about prostitutes (his never seen but sometimes heard elderly landlady is one apparently) and he also speaks about his second favourite brothel in the town, and it’s the kind of bawdy end of the pier humour that might have made an audience in the prim and proper nineteen fifties laugh but in 2023 felt unpleasant, and the audience remained largely silent all night long.

In the opening forty five minutes there were three songs, and this was where the evening took an even stranger turn as the actor playing West just couldn’t sing, his vocals were either flat or off key, and even worse were that the lyrics were not only bland but extremely repetitive, with the opening song repeating the chorus about six times. The (recorded) music was at least okay, but that is the one and only positive I can say about this mess of a production.

There was a fair amount of fourth wall breaking comments, mostly concerning how many mistakes were being made or mocking the actress for being unable to move a plastic skeleton around, while inexplicably West at one point takes out a jar that supposedly has a baboon’s penis in it and compares it to his own, though it’s got nothing to do with the plot at all. Odder still was a part in the third song where after one verse West proclaims “Let’s Dance”, and the two cast members move their bodies in an uncomfortable and strange way which made me question if they’d ever seen anyone dance before, and had just read the definition of the word in a dictionary.

I’ve seen a lot of lo-fi low budget productions in various tiny spaces above pubs, and I’m normally very forgiving of them, and largely very fond of them, you often get to see some fascinating ideas and themes explored that are a little too niche for the West End stage, that or it’s something a cult audience will love but a larger one may not respond to. So I take no pleasure in leaving early, or in writing this review, but it is such a poorly acted and appallingly scripted work that it should never have been performed in front of an audience, alive or dead.

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