Monster Makers – Review – John Cooper Studio Theatre, York
By @Roger Crow, October 2019
If New York has off-Broadway shows, then one of York’s equivalent venues would be the John Cooper Studio Theatre. I had no idea the place existed until recently, so good to try out a fresh theatre (for me at least) as well as a new show.
I rock up at what I suspect will be a Rocky Horror wannabe, lured by the magnetic pull of a three-part musical about horror movie classics. It’s one of those shows that sounds too good to miss, and thankfully it is.
Created by award-winning US writer Stephen Dolginoff, it’s a modest offering which might not boast the scale and money of something like the Young Frankenstein musical, which left me beaming in the West End last year, but it has a big heart and deserves a lot of attention.
Now going into any musical cold is no guarantee of how it will do in the long run. Songs have a habit of getting under your skin after repeated listens, so I have no idea if the array of tunes on display will become favourites.
What I can tell you is the small cast are excellent. Andrew Isherwood, Alan Park, Darren Lumby, Tony Froud and Emma Louise Dickinson do a great job of embodying assorted characters, while director Mark Hird ensures there’s rarely a dull moment.
We open with the court case following the making of FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, which, as any movie fan will tell you, was Germany’s answer to Dracula in everything but name, for legal reasons.
“Simple yet effective”
It’s a bit creaky to get going, like me first thing in a morning, but the cast do a great job as we ease into proceedings.
At around half an hour, the first part doesn’t outstay its welcome, and then we’re into the making of James Whale’s Frankenstein. Hard to believe the guy who created the definitive version of Universal’s horror classic was born a few miles up the road from me, though given this version and Gods and Monsters (in which Ian McKellen gave a superb performance) there was no hint of a Dudley accent in Whale’s dulcet tones.
His clash with the movie’s make-up designer, Jack Pierce, and work with Boris Karloff is far more on the money. And then we come to my favourite part of the night, when Peter Cushing and the Hammer team attempts to make two movies back to back to appease the money men. Cushing, a model of integrity and professionalism, working against the clock and near impossible demands, while obligatory Hammer nymph Victoria dons assorted wigs and dresses to film scenes with him.
It’s here that the show really comes alive, and again the cast do a wonderful job of embodying their roles. The set is simple yet effective, and the music is bouncy and dramatic in all the right places.
It’s rumoured to be transferring to London at some point, and deserves to do well at bigger venues. However, this beta test is a perfect Hallowe’en treat.
Unlike some musicals, sitting through it again would be a far from horrific experience.
images: Matthew Kitchen Photography