United Kingdom Townhill, Once Bitten: Book & Music by Richard Townhill with Lyrics by Joanna Marshall & Ross Keeping, South Manchester Amateur Operatic Society, Royal Northern College of Music 18-22 October 2011 (RJW)
Ed Owens: Zac
Tim Collier & Eleanor Ford: Max & Val, Vampire Council Reps
Justine Moore: Bella
Dominic Penney: Flash
Siobhan O’Leary: Syd
Christina Demetriou, Rebecca Keeping, Marie McNulty: the Vampettes
Lela Keighley: Buffy, Vampire Hunter
Margaret Matthews: Cindy
David Barker: Sam
Dan Argent: Biff
Gareth Brewerton: Chav
Pete Mosley: Grunt
Musical Direction by Richard Townhill
Directed by Ross Keeping
‘Once bitten’ twice shy is an utterly original romp — a musical that is the ideal antidote to Hallowe’en. With a plot that has twists and turns to out-match the M6 spaghetti junction, the energy of the music, singing and direction justified the very good attendance all week. The brilliant concept by Richard Townhill, nicely adapted for the stage under Ross Keeping’s direction, provides a seamless flow of ideas and good lyrics that is as good as a West End Lloyd Webber musical. The genre could be regarded as ‘Cabaret’ yet there is a good story that cements the characters and weaves itself through the excellent choreographic detail provided by Lisa Bradshaw.
Maybe the small Studio Theatre of the RNCM caused constraints but these did not mar the vivacious and sparkling presentation. The plot concerns a hiker, Zac, who whilst in Transylvannia has been attacked, bitten and taken over by two enthusiastic vampire ghosts, Max and Val, a comic duo, who escort Zac on vampire training. This trio of focus to the show is held until a Hallowe’en party provides an ideal opportunity for Zac to learn his supernatural craft and make his first strike, or rather bite. Things go hilariously wrong when it is found that the fungi used in a homemade pizza are magic love mushrooms found lying around.
The first twist to the plot comes at the end of Act I where we think Zac is going to give his partner, Bella, a dreaded love bite, but it is Bella who surprises us and gets in first to give a fanged love bite. So Bella, too, is a vampire to compound this Gilbertian plot. A girl band trio opens the show and later in a second twist of the plot turn out to be the real vampires after all that have to be silenced by a stake through the heart, but for the fact there is only one stake. However, Flash (at this moment still wearing the remanents of his female impersonating role) offers his stilettos to provide the missing two, much-needed, stakes. (We’ll waver the fact that they are not really wood but the garlic compensates.)
Much energy was provided by the acting and all of the main characters brought their parts alive. The innocence of Zac, the conniving enthusiasm of the vampire trainers, a believeably innocent Bella, and confused Syd were excellent. Flash led his cabaret-style chorus numbers with charisma, energy and cheeky charm. His transformation into a hairy chested Edna Everage was all good fun.
The music was a myriad of styles, rock, boogie-woogie, blues, jazz, ballad and was played by an excellent off-stage band of keyboards, brass, guitars and drums.
I liked the composite set on multiple levels (with a fireman’s pole to come from the bedroom landing to the stage floor) and busy scenes with groups of the chorus always involved with realistic and individual pieces of stage business. Add to this projected effects and a digital clock stiking the hour with thunder rather than a chime and going amusingly wrong at midnight, there was a lot to look at and take in. The costumes were excellent and dressed the atmospheric set well. There was good, colourful directional lighting with gobo and UV effects working to complex spot-on cues. The chorus appeared in a number of guises and even managed a convincing zombie sequence. Thanks to good direction the pace was slick and well rehearsed.
It is good to see a society like this bringing itself up-to-date with such original material and handing the reins of presentation to a younger generation when societies wishing to retain their Rodgers & Hammersteins and Vagabond Kings have gone under. We look forward to their next production, Chess, with equal enthusiasm.
Raymond J Walker