Thursday, 10 June 2021

Vampire - Snoo Wilson

 Snoo Wilson (1948-2013) was one of the key playwrights of my youth.  Indeed, Vampire was first performed four months before I went to university to study drama for the first time in 1973.  At the time Wilson was the equal of David Hare, Trevor Griffiths and Howard Brenton and ahead of Stephen Poliakoff.  The others went on to commercial success whilst Wilson never really did.

Vampire isn't about a vampire at all.  It's really three loosely linked plays about the essence of vampirism - i.e. sex and death and, given that vampires are believed to start drinking the blood of family members - incest.

The longest and best of the three plays (or acts as Wilson insists on calling them) is the first, which is basically as two act play set in the mid 19th century in which a Welsh minister keeps a tight hold on his three young daughters because he fears they will discover sex - which, this being a play from 1973, they very much do.  Scene Two finds the minister visiting a brothel-cum-seance room to try and contact his beloved wife.  His most liberated daughter just happens to be the star attraction of the combined business.  The man of god ends up having incestuous sex with his daughter in a coffin, convinced that she is the ghost of his dead wife.

The product of this incestuous coupling ends up being the mother of Sarah, the lead character in Act Two, set on the eve of the First World War.  The fight for women's rights is now Suffragism.  Again, the structure is basically two acts, albeit these are too short to stand alone.  Here the second involves Sarah as Mary in a Nativity Play, during which she is examined by those eminent medics, Jung and Freud.

Act Three is a problem - so much so that Wilson was forever changing it in subsequent productions; one such change ended up being expanded into an entire play, one of Wilson's more successful ones, Soul of the White Ant.  The setting in this original version is contemporary London.  The women's movement is now so advanced that Marcia wants to be called Dwight.  Everything is very modern, very extreme (for 1973).  Nothing much happens and the play rather fizzles out.

But I like Vampire because of its rough and ready experimental nature.  Not everything works but the first half works extremely well and could and would and perhaps should stand alone, perhaps in a double bill with one of Wilson's shorter works.  We didn't know it at the time but the Seventies was a golden age for democratic British theatre - a long, long way from the sort of drivel that we today manage to squeeze in between the bloody musicals.

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