Wilton’s Music Hall, London
March 4, 2020
Wilton’s Music Hall is full of ghosts. A theatrical presentation in its own right, it is one of London’s hidden treasures. Faded posters tell of crowd-pleasing acts from bygone eras and the creaking floorboards could tell a tale or two. But I fear that Mark Bruce’s Return to Heaven is not going to join the roster of greats. It has so many of the right ingredients: excellent performers, including Dane Hurst who never fails to add value, eye-catching photos, a potent mix of gothic horror, sex and danger; and some good ideas surfacing amidst waves of calypso nostalgia. But as it was, there seemed to be no good reason and no central focus to harness all that into a worthwhile production.
Bruce has a strong track record in the dark world of the undead. This work rides a knife edge between horror and the absurd, and going for broke in high camp might well have worked. The plot, such as it is, is related in dreamlike flashbacks, fragmented and unconnected. The episodes are brief, some deliciously creepy like the tentacles snaking round Eleanor Duval, or Carina Howard baring her vampire teeth, and some that are thankfully saved by a quick blackout when the illogicality of the scene outplays itself.
There is a running theme of hieroglyphics and weird symbols in the tattoos on Duval’s back, stencils on a canvas tent and on a coffin shaped box that shudders with mysterious power. There is also a headless corpse and a well-worn head that no self-respecting corpse would want returned. The list of characters includes a doctor, assorted spacemen, thuggish mercenaries and an assortment of nice young folk who frequent bars and obviously have disturbing backstories. The plotline conjures visions of every B-grade Mummy horror movie.
Most disappointing was the choreography, however. Nothing in the movements helps to define character or add substance. There are outbursts of frenetic dance, duets of bland social dance and solos in an unhappy mix of styles. The skill of the dancers was obvious, and they certainly deserved better.