Insider jokes on classic horror tropes and vaudeville clowning make Innes Lloyd’s latest show a fun ride, says Robert Reid
The newest work from comedy duo Innes Lloyd – briefly at The Butterfly Club for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – is a loving pastiche of Hammer Horror and Universal monsters. They’re familiar – and public domain – monsters that were given a romantic treatment by Gothic genre writers or Hollywood screen writers. All these find their way into this mashup monsterverse in which Dr Mina Harker, drawn from the page of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, carries on her practice as a paranormal investigator.
Harker and her bumbling Scotland yard assistant, Dr Nayland Smith, bumble through an adventure with distinctly Holmesian overtones, but without any of the consulting detective’s deductive skills and inductive reasoning. Harker is an expert and recognises everything immediately, hampered by the well-meaning bluster of Dr Smith and her ineffectual husband, Johnathon Harker. Together they face the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster before facing down the resurrected dark lord, Dracula, himself.
It’s a fun, semi-improvised romp that revels in its familiarity with the genre and a slew of references and quotes for fans to recognise. I caught several Ghostbusters and Young Frankenstein references.
Lloyd and Innes themselves are relaxed and jolly in all their roles, enjoyable enough in their slapdash stage presence. Goofy and gawky, they chuckle happily when things go wrong and play up to the audience when we laugh too loud and hard over one of Lloyd’s serious plot points. As the eponymous Dr Harker, Jen Speirs is a little stiff, playing the character while Innes and Lloyd are playing the comedy. She relaxes in the interstitial moments when the performers break out of the show to present fun facts about famous horror movies, and lets her body do more of the performing during the dance section of set to Werewolves of London. If she could bring that physicality into her performance of Harker, it would match the energy and presence of the two older and more experienced performers.
The comedy is largely inoffensive and familiar, trading on stock movie monster tropes combined with well-worn, comforting punchlines and physical schtick. There are a couple of jokes that trade on unhappy cultural stereotypes inherited from an earlier age: these are at least called out by the cast, who pick up a character when they’ve done a racism or a sexism that is “in the style of the times”. I’m not totally convinced it works as a critique of this kind of racism in comedy: there’s a danger here of celebrating and reinforcing the attitudes its meant to critique.
They employ a poor theatre/vaudeville approach to staging and storytelling, playing up to the crowd, mugging, miming and blending melodrama and grand guignol stylings with a whose-line-is-it-anyway attitude. Innes Lloyd’s comedy hovers somewhere between dated and timeless, which is clearly a winning combination for the sold-out houses they’ve had all week.
Mina Harker: Monster Doctor, written by David S Innes and Rob Lloyd, lighting and sound Jaklene Vukasinovic, musical arrangement by Matthew Hadgraft, sound design David S Innes. Performed by Jen Speirs, David S Innes and Rob Lloyd at The Butterfly Club for MICF.