It’s not every day that you see fifty locals from your new neighbourhood armed and on the hunt for a vampire with iron teeth. And when I say armed I mean carrying holy water in a Fairy Liquid bottle, wielding spatulas and hitting dustbin lids with sticks.
Welcome to the Gorbals, Glasgow, 1954.
Tonight’s community production in based on a true story and draws on accounts of residents who took part in the vampire hunt as children in the 50s. These were the days, one resident says, before they learnt from Christopher Lee’s Hammer Horror films that vampires are best staked through the heart. Hence the makeshift weapons. In fact the children didn’t even know the word vampire. They were convinced that a man with iron teeth ‘like a walrus’ had killed two little twin brothers from their school. Hundreds of terrified Gorbals children stormed the Necropolis to hunt him down. Decades later, the story makes it to the stage in a blend of comedy, social commentary and spooky Halloween fun.
In preparation for tonight’s performance the community ran writing competitions for schools and comic book sessions where children learnt about the 1950s horror comics that were censored after the Gorbals vampire incident. There’s an exhibition accompanying the production featuring recorded interviews, an anthology of the children’s winning stories, and artworks designed by the locals as part of a ten month project leading up to tonight’s show.
And what a show. It’s not easy to choreograph the movement of such a big cast, particularly when most members carry their own chair to rearrange into classroom scenes, lunch canteens and domestic sketches. The directors and movement director coordinate smooth transitions in this dynamic performance. The only issue that comes with having so many people on stage at once comes when they sing (which they only do sporadically: thankfully it’s not a musical). The words to each song are impossible to discern, but the tone gets the message across, whether it’s fear or defiance.
The stage is framed by the headstones, with a wall running along the back. The story starts with two empty chairs. The missing twins hide on the Necropolis wall, avoiding their drunken father, who may or may not have been bitten by a vampire. This is where the social commentary comes in. The Gorbals area of Glasgow has a long history of economic deprivation and violence. It was once deemed the most dangerous place in Britain. We are constantly reminded of how vulnerable these characters are, with one of the children even being nicknamed Panda because he always has a black eye. Another says there’s no point telling the police about the man with iron teeth, because they don’t care. Rather than portraying the group as a senseless angry mob, The Gorbals Vampire gives a sensitive and funny account of fear, imagination, local lore and the power of rumour. Full of fun tricks this community production is a real Halloween treat.