Had a rare trip to the theatre last night to see Stagefright, a new play by Michael Punter about the distinguished Victorian actor Henry Irving and his business manager Bram Stoker, for whom at this point Dracula is no more than a pipedream. The two find themselves locked into the Lyceum Theatre overnight after a successful production of Faust and their initial easy banter gives way to unease and then terror when a seemingly supernatural presence starts to make itself apparent.
Stagefright is great entertainment, and Punter relishes the opportunity to deflate Irving’s pomposity and drop pointers to Stoker’s eventual fame via a witty and accessible script. A sense of humour is evident throughout, which helps to heighten the effect of the half a dozen or so shock moments that occur beautifully, and the staging of the various ghostly surprises can’t be faulted (an illusionist is in fact credited in the programme). Jonathan Keeble as Irving and Barry Ward as Stoker acquit themselves with just the right level of theatricality, and the set, copiously detailed as it is with Victoriana and thespian ephemera, is lovely to behold. A brisk production that crucially doesn’t take itself too seriously and provides some real thrills – worth watching out for.