Fresh from a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, absurd comedy theatre group Last Chance Saloon are preparing for the London Horror Festival, where they’ll be introducing audiences to a rather scary sex symbol: Dracula himself. But the ultimate gothic maestro is about to meet his match in Last Chance Saloon’s show, Dracula: Sex, Sucking and Stardom, as he embarks on a quest to star in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Co-founder Sam Dunham tells me more about the compay’s unique brand of guilty pleasure theatre, keeping the Michael Buble spirit alive and how what they do is about so much more than making people laugh. Though they certainly manage to do that too.
Where did the idea for sexing up Stoker come from?
We love taking classic stories and giving them a modern, comic twist. The Count is a mysterious, ageless, elusive creature. I mean, he’s automatically a sex symbol and who better to play him than young Jack [Faires – co-founder and cast member). I was, yet again, overlooked. Anyway, vampires are having a real moment, thanks to Twilight, Being Human and the very post-watershed True Blood. But we thought, instead of casting Dracula as the classic archetypal villain we could make him a camp Michael Buble wannabe. We want to appeal to Robert Pattison fans but also to those seeking an antidote to vampires that sparkle.
So how would you describe the show?
It’s about the battle between the world’s most famous count (and his desire to take over the world and star in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical) and his arch nemesis, the strangely accented Professor Abraham Van Helsing. We create an hour of slick, deft theatre comedy using liberal interpretations of pop songs and ridiculous characters that’s a mix of Charlie Chaplin meets The League of Gentlemen. Lastly, it’s about having a good time, letting yourself go and laughing.
Do you find that a blend of comedy and horror work together well on stage? Audiences obviously respond well…
Horror and comedy are one of those things that you maybe don’t expect to go well together but just do, like peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Both subvert the audience’s expectations but when blended together can actually be very powerful in taking the audience on a roller coaster of feelings – hopefully one which will leave them laughing after!
How did the company itself come together?
We spent three years at Italia Conti together, and Jack and I founded Last Chance Saloon in 2009 a few years after we graduated. Our first production was A Wet-Wipe, a Dog and a Caravan, which we took to the Udderbelly for the Fringe Festival in 2009 and then transferred to London. As an actor in the industry you quickly realise how much of a small cog in the machine you are and how little control you have over your lives. Forming Last Chance Saloon and writing shows for ourselves was a way of wrestling back the creative control, so we could create our own work and put it on in the way we wanted to.
And what you created was “Guilty Pleasure Theatre”?
Guilty Pleasure Theatre’s sole purpose is to put a smile on your face. It has its roots in Vaudeville and turn-of-the-century music hall performance and continues through the work of Charlie Chaplin, Morcambe & Wise and more recently can even be seen in The League of Gentlemen. It can be a mix of high-octane physical comedy with audience-pleasing quick-witted knowing humour. We try and continue in that tradition. Last Chance Saloon aren’t here to educate – we want the audience to forget about their woes and their bad day at work, and indulge in a bloody good laugh.
I’m imagining that using pop songs helps with that?
We got tired of the hard-hitting serious theatre we were watching so decided to create a show that was fun and, first and foremost, made us laugh. This turned out to manifest itself as Count Dracula singing Barry Manilow numbers and local Transylvanian Gypsies talking about goats. The fact that a lot of other people found this as amusing as us is fantastic but I don’t think Last Chance Saloon will appeal to everyone.
Your performance style is pretty quirky. Was that intentional when you started?
We didn’t really tend to think about our performance style; we just wrote a script, which we then discarded in the rehearsal room and started to devise some routines both physically and vocally. Once we’d found these routines we drilled them to make them as slick and precise as we could. We are massive fans of physical comedy and believe greatly in the power that even the smallest gesture can say an awful lot about what you’re trying to achieve. So while the routines in our show could be seen as choreographed, they all start from a place of fun, play and messing around!
Your “messing around” certainly went down well at the Fringe…
For one awesome month you suddenly feel like a mini-celebrity, people who came to see your show the night before stop you in the street to congratulate you, you get recognised when you’re having a drink afterward, your picture is in the paper. And no, nobody sleeps for the whole month. And then it all comes crashing down when you arrive back in London again. But it’s an amazing experience – it’s like summer camp for comedians and actors.
Now it’s over and you’ve got good reviews under your belt, is the pressure on?
The pressure is on us to write another great show, but that is something that’s never going to leave. However, we all thrive on it and it’s a pleasure to do. Good reviews are just a lovely bonus and something to show our mums.
What’s next for Last Chance Saloon?
We’ve had such a good time this year and we’d love to keep building on that. We’re starting to plan our next show (already!) which we may take up to Edinburgh again. In the meantime though we’re transferring Dracula to the Etcetera Theatre as part of the very exciting Horror Festival. After that we’d love to keep performing in London and developing new comedy skits and new work. One of our favourite companies is Spymonkey, they have a huge fanbase and consistently produce phenomenal, funny shows and have been doing that over 10 years and we’d love to be able to build Last Chance Saloon over the years like that.
Dracula: Sex, Sucking and Stardom plays at the Etcetera Theatre from 16 to 18 October at 9.30pm. For tickets and more information visit www.londonhorrorfestival.com or for more about the company, www.lastchancesaloon.org.
Image credit: Idil Sukan – Draw HQ