The Mystery of Irma Vep
by Brian Coats, Education Programs Associate
NOTE: This Play Guide may contain mild spoilers about the story of the show. If you like to be completely surprised by the play, you may wish to wait until after seeing it to read the Play Guide.
February 12 – March 8, 2020
Jane Twisden: the maid at Mandacrest with a few well-kept secrets, finds herself opposed to the new mistress of Mandacrest, Lady Enid.
Nicodemus Underwood: Mandacrest’s swineherd, who loves Jane in spite of her disinterest, but holds a dark secret of his own.
Lady Enid Hillcrest: the new mistress of Mandacrest and second wife of Lord Edgar, she must learn to adapt to the strange happenings at the estate.
Lord Edgar Hillcrest: Lady Enid’s husband; he continues to mourn the loss of his first wife while trying to move on and be happy in his new marriage.
Irma Vep: Lord Edgar’s deceased first wife, who continues to loom large over Mandacrest Estate.
What's the Story?
Three years following the death of his first wife, Irma Vep, Lord Edgar Hillcrest of Mandacrest Estate has remarried. His new wife, Lady Enid, an actress from the city, finds herself in a strange new world where the servants don’t like her and the memory of the long-dead Irma Vep still looms large. As she struggles to find her place at Mandacrest, Lady Enid will discover secrets that threaten everyone’s lives, and she might possibly reveal some dark secrets of her own.
Two actors play eight characters and dash back and forth across (and behind) the stage, hurriedly changing costumes and wigs and voices and anything else they can think of to deliver this mad-cap horror-comedy adventure in Charles Ludlam’s utterly ridiculous The Mystery of Irma Vep!
Horror, Comedy, and Camp
The Mystery of Irma Vep is a delightful blend of many genres, most notably horror and comedy. True to the style of Theatre of the Ridiculous and Ludlam’s own personal style, the play parodies and heavily references many well-known works. This includes, but is not limited to, Victorian melodrama, the penny dreadful, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, the Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca, and The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.
Like many plays under the brand of Theatre of the Ridiculous, The Mystery of Irma Vep features a consistently over-the-top and broad acting style. In discussing his play, Ludlam commented that the “slant was actually to take things very seriously, especially focusing on those things held in low esteem by society and revaluing them, giving them new meaning, new worth, by changing their context.” Taking Ludlam’s lead, the play is both serious and humorous, and this subversion of genres greatly lends itself to the style known as “camp.”
Camp seeks to make something appealing that is generally considered unappealing or in bad taste. To put it very simply, in the camp style, things that are conventionally considered ugly are actually beautiful. Camp style is over-the-top, bold and sometimes gaudy. It is an inversion, and at times, subversion, of the concept of beauty. It is often loud, lively and audacious. Camp thrives in that which overwhelms.
When you enter the theatre to see The Mystery of Irma Vep, you will immediately notice that our creative team has taken these ideals to heart. Director Nelson T. Eusebio III, scenic designer Michael Locher, and costume designer Sara Ryung Clement challenged themselves to see just how vibrant and audacious they could be; going too far was not far enough, Irma Vep had to go even further!
Come see what everyone’s laughing (in horror) about at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis!