In the beginning was the story. One thing I didn't want the script to be, and that was a series of weak links between strong songs. The book had to be a play in its own right; that is, a work that would entertain, even if the songs were removed.
I wanted to write a story which felt like it was set in the nineteenth century, but which actually took place in the twenty-first. I set about this by having two young people, who grew up in contemporary London, brought to Darkest lav, a small town in Transylvania, where time seemed to have stood still - a town straight out of a Hammer Horror movie.
As I have already mentioned, I wanted the script to entertain, not only by conveying a strong story but also by being very funny. The style of theatre I wanted to achieve was that of burlesque. I have now, probably, conjured up visions of striptease dancers sitting around in giant champagne glasses, but burlesque theatre, as defined by Wikipedia is: " a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects. The word derives from the Italian burlesco, which, in turn, is derived from the Italian burla â€” a joke, ridicule or mockery". I must add, though, that one of the main characters in the show is a Burlesque Dancer, and all the female vampires, are costumed in burlesque inspired outfits.
Hammer Horror movies were the works I wanted to caricature. I wanted ReVamp to have a very British feel, and so, most of my conscious and subconscious influences, when writing the script, were the British comedy movies, television, and stage shows I have grown up with. The works of Monty Python, The Mighty Boosh, Blackadder, and even Pantomime. I also reference various sitcoms from Dad's Army to Allo, Allo. I would also like to include one American influence, that being, comedy genius, Mr. Mel Brooks.
Comedy has played an important part in my life, leading me to become a stand up comedian for about twenty years, or so - So, although I acknowledge the influence television and the movies, have had on my love of the art, what pours out of me, onto the page, has always been a very unusual, twisted, dark humour, which was the perfect style for writing a comedy script about vampires.
But ReVamp is not a horror story - it's a story about obsession, love, lust, desire, and betrayal - a story of the "human" condition. It is the story about a vampires search for a cure, a way to become human again - I must add that I did start writing this long before Corona virus came on the scene.
So, the question I asked myself when I began this project was, who should the main vampire be. Dracula is out of copywrite, so I could have used him, or I could create my own vampire legend. Eventually I decided to compromise - I would re-imagine the end to the Dracula novel, and have that monster creates another before he is destroyed, Professor Abraham Van Helsing. And it is he, over one hundred years later, that the story is based around; and to avoid dishonoring the good Van Helsing name, he now calls himself Professor Caradino.
Fans of old horror movies will guess that the name Caradino is a tribute to the actor John Carradine, who took over the role of Dracula, from Bella Lugosi, in the 1940s Universal Studios movie, House of Frankenstein. Some other characters in the show are also named after actors and actresses from the Hammer : the character "Madeline" was a tribute to Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell actress Madeline Smith (Who's signed picture I have hanging on my living room wall); the character "Lalla" came from Vampire Circus actress Lalla Ward; and Ripper came from Michael Ripper who appeared in a number of Hammer and other horror/sci-fi movies.
After nine months of writing I had produced a working draft of the script, which we then took onto a workshop/rehearsal stage. Although I had seen the script performed many times in my head, I finally got to see real life actors and actresses bringing my characters to life. I got to se what worked and what didn't, and quite a number of changes had to be made - I can't emphasise enough to any budding script writer, try and have your script work-shopped, it is an important part of the script writing process. I think the biggest change I made was to the characters Ripper and his wife Carmila. They were the proprietors of the Little Bollockoff Inn (You've just got to have an Inn in a Transylvanian vampire tale). They were originally minor characters, until I saw the scenes work-shopped with the actors - they brought a life to them that I had not imagined - When I wrote these characters, the one thing I didn't want them to be, and that was the ThÃ©nardiers from Les Mis. - When you are writing characters who are a husband and wife Inn keepers, there is a danger of going down that road. But what I got from the actors, was a sort of 19th century-style Basil and Sybil Fawltey - my reaction was "Yes!!". So I had to make these characters bigger, and created extra scenes for them. The workshops also influenced by changing Agrafina's character - She is the Big Bad in ReVamp; a Beautiful Vampire High Priestess, whose main desire is to resurrect the Evil Lord Vlad (an even bigger Big Bad). After seeing her comedy interaction in a couple of scenes with Carmila and Ripper, I made the decision that she needed to be less serious/scary, and a bit funnier. And, so I completely rewrote her introductory scene - the original just introduced her as the baddie, and laid out her plans with her two hench-women vampires. The new scene got more into her character: we see her as a very vain-vamp - she's sexy, and she knows it, and she'll use that sex appeal to lure humans into doing her bidding before she'll cast them aside.
I must say that I was extremely pleased with all the actors who gave life to my creations during the workshop rehearsals in the Spring/Summer of 2019. They all gave me food for thought - I now see them all as my little band of Frankenstein Monsters (They're Alive! They're Alive!).
The book came first - it took me about a year to complete (including time spent work-shopping the script) - For the next six months I worked on the lyrics - but then, after collaborating with the composers, it probably took another six months making changes and completely rewriting one song.
I saw the songs as having two main functions: Progressing the story, and giving an insight into a character's personality. They did have other functions, of course, the first song, Transylvania, was an introductory song to the place - I think most people already have certain assumptions and impressions of Transylvania, so the lyrics just had to reinforce these impressions. How to do this? Well, I'm not too proud to admit that the opening song in The Rocky Horror Show did suply a certain amount of inspiration, as I did manage to cram in the titles of quite a few famouse, and not so famous, horror movies into the body of the song - I even managed to include "Carry On Screaming". Appart from that, the style of song is very, very different to TRHS's "Science Fiction, Double Feature".
At certain times I found the lyric writing more difficult than writing the script, other times the words came quite easy. I have been writing songs, on and off, for 40 years or so, but never so many for one project - And this time I was working with composers (Ben Baljak & Maria Owen), so it was just the lyrics - so no matter what the song sounded like in my head, as I was writing it, I knew it was not going to sound that way once the composers had taken over. Thank God For That! Ben and Maria really got me, and it has been a pleasure working with them.
I think it was the comedy songs which proved to be the most difficult to write - so I'm glad there are only two in the show: "Creatures of the Night" & "I've Never Kissed a Vagina" - the latter proving the most difficult, as it went through quite a few rewrites. I did have certain styles of music in mind, and Ben and Maria were able to accommodate me. ReVamp is made up of an eclectic album of songs, ranging from Traditional Musical Theatre, through Country, and Blues, and Rock - there's quite a bit of Rock (and even a 1950s Rockabilly-style song)
Author: Dave Benjamin
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