Review: Monster Makers

It’s here at the John Cooper Theatre in Monk Gate, an English premiere of Stephen Dolginoff’s new musical Monster Makers which takes a look at life behind the camera lens in the early days of horror movie making. It takes three stories of famous Monster Movies and shows the plagiarism and competition behind the scenes.

Review by Angie Millard

Dolginoff has written many shows and gained recognition in America where he achieved an Off-Broadway award for Thrill me which PickMeUp Theatre also premiered before it moved to London’s West End. Dolginoff says: “They did such an incredible job with Thrill me I knew that this was the company I wanted to premiere Monster Makers in the UK.”

Monster Makers is a very funny look at the journey of Dracula and Frankenstein from pre-war Germany and expressionism to the final films of The Hammer House of Horror. From the era of deep contrast in black and white films to the low budget compromise of Hammer film, Readman makes clever use of the limited stage incorporating a small revolve to indicate Frankenstein’s lab on one side and Dracula’s coffin on the reverse. This simple device expresses everything you need to know about making two films simultaneously. He has turned the John Cooper Theatre into a viable performance space again.

The play begins with F.W. Murneau the director of Nosferatu, a silent master piece. He fears he will lose a lawsuit against Bram Stoker’s estate as his film has distinct likenesses to the Dracula story and, if he loses, all the prints will be destroyed. Andrew Isherwood plays the role with just the right balance of high camp and creative desperation. The rest of the cast are well-tuned to the humour of the piece and Emma Louise Dickinson as Bram Stoker’s widow sings a terrific tour de force as an avenging diva.

The second story features Darren Lumby as the creator of the Hollywood monster’s makeup, He is devious and relentless in his attempt to get his own way and is finally justified in the iconic image he produces. The scene is bound together by one song, When I’m Creating a Monster in which actor, director, producer and wardrobe all demonstrate the creative part they play in the Hollywood’s machine.

Finally we are taken to the 1970’s when Peter Cushing (played with uncanny likeness by Tony Froud) struggles to complete sequels to the classic Frankenstein and Dracula movies. Froud captures the old world charm of Cushing and his number The last Nail in the Coffin is a great comment on the whole saga.

As one might expect, much of the production is played in a parody of early film acting styles but the director has ensured dramatic integrity by his use of the key roles Dolginoff has written. Alan Park demonstrates his versatility as Albin Grau Murnau’s irritating friend and also as a smooth ruthless producer who rides roughshod over artistic sensibilities. Andrew Isherwood is a camp director who actually cares about the end product and Emma Louise Dickinson as a third rate actress who is thrilled to be part of it all.

The company are all vocally excellent but special mention must be made of Emma Louise Dickinson’s superb voice. I adored Mr Monster man I’m a Horror Fan and loved Tony Froud’s interaction with her. A silent film style piano accompanies the songs. The sound balance needs a small adjustment and one or two numbers were a verse too long for my taste but it is early days.

The director has skilfully created a tight and immensely funny experience in 90 mins. The portrayal of Dracula’s stuntman by Darren Lumby was a masterpiece of comic timing but was dovetailed into the scene so that no-one missed a beat. I loved the whole conception and wonder where we shall see Monster Makers next. This is obviously just the beginning, an ‘Off-Monkgate’ production which we were privileged to see. Watch this space as they say!

Monster Makers is being performed at John Cooper Theatre, York from 23 to 26 October 2019. The Book, music and lyrics are by Stephen Dolginoff. The director is Mark Hird. Production and design is by Robert Readman. The Musical Director is Sam Johnson.