Tuesday, 11 August 2015

VAMPIRES IN THE VAULT @edfringe review by Donna Foulis of TVBomb.co.uk

Just posting here the first review in of my Edinburgh Fringe show VAMPIRES IN THE VAULT, written by Donna Foulis of TVBomb. I'll post a link to the website here: http://www.tvbomb.co.uk/2015/08/vampires-in-the-vault/

Donna here is reviewing one of the two stories I'm doing under the Vampires In The Vault heading, namely Blood And Stone, the real life 'Countess Dracula'. I'm performing that show every second day, tonight (i.e Tue 11 August) & also Thur 13 & Sat 15 at 17.55. The other story, The Gorbals Vampire, very warmly received last night, is being performed, same time, same place, on Wed 12 & Fri 14. Venue is Paradise In The Vault, 11 Merchant Street, venue 29, just uphill from the Grassmarket, just down the hill from Greyfriars Bobby, turn the corner at the Oz Bar and go under the bridge. You can book through www.paradise-green.co.uk (0131 510 0022) or the edfringe office at: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/vampires-in-the-vault

But also for convenience's sake, I'll paste in the review text below. Thank you, Donna!

We all like a good story. We tell them to each other every day, emphasising the key details to excite our friends’ attention. Marty Ross has perfected this art of storytelling and will captivate your attention for an entire hour leaving you imagining that you are sitting in the depths of the ancient, mouldering castle where this thrilling tale takes place.
The show alternates between two pieces, with tonight’s performance telling the thrilling tale of Blood and Stone. The story provides a sequel to Hungary’s infamous tale of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, unravelling the layers to the countess’s story as the mystery of this seemingly vampiric woman, is picked apart by an intriguing visitor to the castle.
The performance moves at a seemingly impossible speed and with a furious energy. Ross seems to have no need to stop and come up for air, effortlessly switching between characters to deliver a fluid and captivating sequence of events and detailed imagery. The pace of the narrative is well-timed to add mystery and intrigue that really draw the audience in. There is barely any evidence of movement from any of the audience members—no fidgeting or turning of heads to read others’ reactions—as Ross has their full attention throughout the performance.
This show is a must see for lovers of gothic and ghostly tales, the cave likevenue adding to its authenticity. It’s certainly intriguing enough to make one want to go back and listen to his other tale The Gorbals Vampirewhich has Glasgow as its gothic setting.

Me in my 17th century Gothic clobber

Sunday, 9 August 2015

VAMPIRES IN THE VAULT: Blood And Stone at the Edinburgh Fringe

Well, my 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show VAMPIRES IN THE VAULT has begun its run as of last night. Last night I performed one of the two vampire tales I'm presenting on alternate days this year, The Gorbals Vampire. That's on again on Mon 10, Wed 12 & Friday 14 August. You can read the background on that elsewhere on this blog. But tonight Sun  9 August, and also on Tue 11, Thurs 12 & Sat 15 August, I'm presenting Blood And Stone in which I bring back from the dead the fearsome 'Bloody Countess' aka Countess Dracula, Elizabeth Bathory, and so I thought I'd reprint here my piece on my lifelong passion for the Countess. (Here's a LINK for booking for the show: T I C K E T L I N K


We go back a long way together, Erzsebet Bathory and I. One of my earliest childhod memories is of a Saturday afternoon in the Govanhill area of Glasgow when I badgered my parents to let me spend my pocket money on a book I had just seen in a shop along the road: the novelisation of Hammer Films’ version of the Bathory story Countess Dracula. My Mum and Dad, to be fair, were less worried about my exposure to the horrors within those pages (I was already the kind of kid allowed to sit up in his Star Trek pyjamas to watch the late night horror film on TV), than concerned over the waste of money on a book surely unreadable to a child with his age still in single figures. (“Think of all the long words,” I remember my Mum saying.) But I persevered and soon had my hands on my very first ‘grown-up’ book, with its gorgeous front cover of a beautiful young Ingrid Pitt and its disturbing back cover image of a grotesquely aged Pitt shoved in her prison cell at the end of the film (which therefore ends just before BLOOD & STONE begins.) And within those covers I was introduced to at least a fictionalised version of the great lady, right at the absolute inception of my literary life. She has haunted me ever since.

How could she not? As someone who firmly believes that great horror is achieved when – and only when - horror and beauty ring out at the same instant (No beauty? Then I’m not interested.), this woman, simultaneously magnificent and beautiful and monstrous beyond conception, might stand as the sheerest embodiment of that aesthetic, less a commonplace serial killer (yawn...) than a kind of wondrous, terrible Goddess of death, like Kali or Medea, Hecate or Clytemnestra.

Throughout the rest of my childhood, a childhood blessed with the true writer’s ability to promiscuously mingle ‘fact’ and fantasy, the tenement building in Glasgow’s Catchcart Road which housed that newsagent’s shop became for me the home of Countess Bathory. I would look at the dusty upper windows of that tenement and visualise the Countess locked up in there – for it was the image of the imprisoned Countess of her latter years that truly haunted my imagination. (Likewise, the toy shop across the street where I bought a model kit of Doctor Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde housed, in my imagination, that very laboratory somewhere in its back shop.)  

And so, inevitably, I dreamed of one day creating my own artistic, dramatic vision of the Countess. The basic plot of BLOOD & STONE was already at least half-formulated in my mind by my teenage years, but I dithered over getting it down on paper, fearful perhaps of doing justice to the great lady, but also at a loss to think who would produce such a grim, gothic story. It hardly seemed material for the BBC or the Royal Court!

Then, when a backpacking trip around Austria saw me basing myself in Vienna, in a hotel room so cheap the window looked out on a romantic airshaft heaped with dead pigeons, I felt the Countess herself taking a hand in the matter. There’s no time to deal with this in BLOOD & STONE, but not all the Countess’s atrocities were committed in her Hungarian Castle. She also had a townhouse in Vienna, just behind the Imperial Court (signifying how highly ranked her family were in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy) and committed some of her crimes there. The monks on the other side of the street used to chuck pots across at her window when the screams of tortured girls disturbed their devotions – but never thought of reporting someone so important to the authorities. Vienna doesn’t publicise her its Bathory connection like it publicises Mozart, but after a bit of detective work at the Vienna police museum, I worked out her Vienna address and made my way there after dark one night.

The street is narrow, poorly lit and with houses that seem to lean towards one another across the street in Caligari fashion. The doorway that once been hers was large but drably painted and many of the floors above in a building now split into offices and apartments looked empty, derelict, buried in dust. I couldn’t help but picture her staring out of the uppermost windows, haunting the spot still. And, standing there, I happened to glance a few doors along to the window of a small record shop on the same block. Two big musicals were playing in Vienna that year: one of them, Elizabeth, portrayed the tragic 19th. Century empress ‘Sissi’, Austria’s very own Princess Di. The other show was Tanz Der Vampyr, a musical based on Roman Polanski’s film Dance Of The Vampires (aka Fearless Vampire Killers). But the way the posters for the two shows were juxtaposed in the window, one above the other, meant that what I saw when I glanced that way was the dim lamp light falling across two words only:
                                    VAMPYR ELIZABETH
It was like a sign, direct from the ghost of the lady herself to my own imagination. I turned away, hurried back up the street towards the brighter lights and broader byways around the opera house. And I swear I could hear the moth-eaten folds of her gown hissing after me up the pavement, pursuing me all the way back to the grey shadows of that hotel room. That night I felt her crawling into my skull.

After that, I had to write something. The first form the idea took on paper was that of a stage play entitled Laundry, but this was a different piece from BLOOD & STONE: the bare bones of the plot were identical, but Laundry updated the story to modern Eastern Europe, both under and after Stalinism and was written in a surreal, absurdist style closer to Ionesco or Kafka or Durrenmatt than to a straightforward horror story. Inevitably, perhaps, no one knew what to do with a play so wilfully off-beat and peculiar so the script lay gathering dust, like the Countess’s ghost up behind those Vienna windows.

But still I couldn’t let go of her; or she wouldn’t let go of me. The idea came to me to take the story back to what it had been in the first place: a pure no-bullshit gothic horror story, 17th. Century castle setting and all. When I took up professional storytelling, I performed a rough-and-ready 25 minute version of Blood And Stone during one of my regular stints with the Storytellers Of Nottingham in Nottingham’s haunted Trip To Jerusalem pub. It worked well, but seemed too big and intense for that tiny venue and limited slot, so I thought about developing it further as a full length piece in its own right. Meanwhile, I pitched it tentatively to BBC Scotland as a radio play, but they took understandable fright at the thought of something so dark and nasty coming on straight after The Archers. Then Mariele Runacre Temple, who’d already produced another play of mine, Medusa On The Beach, for her Wireless Theatre Company dropped me a line about a new audio drama company being set up specially to focus on horror drama. And I knew in an instant that the ghost which had trailed me along the Vienna streets that night, which had maybe been trailing me all the way from that Glasgow street of my childhood, had found a home.

BLOOD & STONE was recorded in a spooky Norfolk church and then released, through 3D Horror Fi, Wireless Theatre Company, Amazon Audible, iTunes etc. and was very well received, ultimately earning a 2012 Rondo award nomination. Here's a link for downloading the audio drama version... BLOOD AND STONE AUDIO 

But the tight hold the Countess had taken of me meant it wasn’t enough to just write a script and let others perform it – that dream of a longer storytelling version offered me the chance to bring to fruition my own inner Countess, to fully channel the way, years before, I’d felt her spirit creeping into me, whether in the streets of Glasgow or Vienna. Storytelling, when it’s really going full tilt, has an almost Shamanic quality… one feels the characters are passing through one like spirits, like you’re a medium, an intermediary, between your audience and the world of the dead. And, God help me, as I rehearse Blood And Stone, day and out, as I twist mind and voice and body into the Countess’ stark contours, it really feels as if there’s more than my imagination at work, as if something/someone who followed me home, skirts a-rustle that night in Vienna is slipping on my skin and bones like a ragged ballgown, a pair of dark gloves, a tragic mask for a tragic (anti) heroine…..

Monday, 3 August 2015

CATCH MY BREATH on BBC Radio 4 Extra & VAMPIRES IN THE VAULT at Edinburgh Fringe

Up to my eyeballs in preparations for heading up to Edinburgh for my Edinburgh Fringe show VAMPIRES IN THE VAULT, which runs from 8 - 15 August, with me performing my story THE GORBALS VAMPIRE on 8, 10, 12, 14 August & BLOOD & STONE on 9, 11, 13 & 15 August. Here's a link for booking tickets: B O O K I N G L I N K

But, MEANWHILE, if you want a free sampler of my distinctly Scottish brand of Gothic horror, BBC Radio 4 Extra are putting on my 5 part serial CATCH MY BREATH on again this week, running over 5 days, Mon 3 - Fri 7 August, playing at 6pm, with a midnight repeat. The show should then go on BBC iPlayer etc for a whole month, so no excuse not to catch up with this dark and disturbing contemporary retake on the darker side of Scottish highland mythology.

Here's a listening link to the BBC Radio 4 Extra. First episode should be available from 6.30 pm UK time today - and then after that, as I say, for a whole month. If you want to check out the 'behind the scenes' story of my writing the piece, check out this couple of entries from earlier posts on my blog:

CATCH MY BREATH behind the scenes part 1: LINK

CATCH MY BREATH behind the scenes part 2: LINK

It should put you just in the mood for catching up with me in Edinburgh!