Review: Vladimir the Crow MICF
There really is a very fine line between scary and funny. A very fine but very long line that many a piece of cinematic horror has precariously stood upon. These are the kinds of ghoulish stories and characters that have inspired this latest presentation from La Mama Theatre and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Vladimir the Crow – Whispering Ghoul gives us a delicious mix of innocent, sinister, sweet and ferocious characters all from the mind and body of the very talented Paul Bourke. Vladimir is our kind, gentle guide through the dark and intimidating world of those whispering ghouls living secretly in every corner of the courthouse theatre. At least, he is usually gentle. He definitely has a darker, fiercer side that comes out when the tour moves from the whimsical to the grave, in both senses of the word.
How could such a sweet creature have the strength to be a vessel for all of the ghouls that come to the fore through his body and his voice? Don’t be deceived by appearances. That’s definitely one of the classic horror adages at the forefront of this delightful homage. He barely talks for the first twenty minutes or so. A jerky strobe-lighted entrance makes for an eerie first impression reminiscent of stop motion, or, rather early silent cinema, especially 20s German Expressionist pieces like Nosferatu, a named favourite of Validmir’s. That said, his diminutive persona seems mostly inspired by the American character actor Dwight Frye, who co-starred in the Universal Horror Classics Dracula and Frankenstein, which also get honourable mentions. The early mime portions of the performance, which see him perform an array of gruesome bodily operations on his audience, are certainly macabre, but they are also endearingly playful. Bourke’s vocal sound effects are much more slapstick than horror, which makes for a delightful contrast.
By the time Bourke starts to speak, particularly as Vladmimir lets the local spirits speak through him, the laughs and the screams become inextricably intertwined. In one of the campiest but no less terrifying theatrical moments I’ve seen in a while, he turns off the lights and walks up and down the aisle with a torch, holding it at that familiar campfire ghost story angle just below his chin as he goes from benign whispering to sudden nightmarish howling. You’ve seen it before, just as you’ve seen all of the other Halloween cliches that he employs. You know how it works, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still make you jump and squirm.
There’s a real sense of dread as soon as he might start to approach you, either to spook you, to place a microphone in front of you with no warning and ask you to improvise something, or to beckon you on stage to briefly play one of his supernatural friends. Naturally, his audience at La Mama were more than game to participate, and help him convey his familiar but nonetheless important message: there is darkness all around us, and inside us, but there is also lightness; such is the human condition. Bourke is more than capable of showing this to his audience, and probably didn’t need to tell us this as often as he does. That said, there is an unusual beauty in Vladimir’s ecstatic exclamations upon meeting human
beings for the first time, and a simple poetry to his descriptions of the many different sides of humanity. However, there wasn’t really much point in, for instance, giving a synopsis of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which really laboured the point.
But, of course, every audience member will have their own preferred amount of literary love letters, of purposeful overacting and of philosophical monologues. It’s clear to see why Whispering Goul has been doing the rounds about town for a good six months now. It’s certainly a treat for any horror fan, and a fascinating experience for any keen theatregoer.
Review written by Christian Tsoutsouvas