The 1960s were a great era for Gothic horror. We had Roger Corman in America, filming the stories of Edgar Allen Poe with Vincent Price, while in England we had Hammer Films with Christopher Lee as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing as Doctor Frankenstein in a long series of low-budget movies. Meanwhile, on TV there was the spoof Gothic horror of two rival American sitcoms about somewhat unusual families – The Munsters and The Addams Family. The inspiration for the latter was the cartoonist Charles Addams, whose cartoons for The New Yorker magazine introduced readers in 1938 to the gruesome family which later acquired his surname. This was in the wake of James Whale’s classic Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff as The Monster, and Tod Browning’s classic Dracula with Bela Lugosi, both in 1931, which established the horror movie as a favourite of the mass cinema audience.
The appeal of this genre has not diminished over time. The Addams Family eventually ran out of steam on TV, but it was made into a very successful movie in 1991, while in 2010 a musical version was a smash hit on Broadway. That same musical now looks like being a smash hit in this country, where it is going on tour. Its short run at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week is virtually sold out, and the auditorium was absolutely packed last night when I squeezed my way through to watch a performance that the audience absolutely loved.
The public’s appetite for the macabre is clearly undiminished, but when combined with song, dance, and humour it becomes an unbeatable formula. The music and the choreography are great, the costumes worn by the ancestors back from the dead, who form the Ensemble, are a riot of colour and invention, and the sets are suitably sepulchral. The plot is the tried and tested one of the straight-laced ‘normal’ family wandering unwittingly into a bizarre world populated by freaks and weirdos, and it is milked very effectively by the witty songs and the unrestrained performance of the actors, who are clearly enjoying themselves. Cameron Blakely is particularly funny as the passionate paterfamilias, but really they all inhabit their roles very well – even the hulking manservant, Lurch, whose vocabulary is rather restricted.
More than 50 years after they first hit our television screens, the Addams Family are still a monstrous attraction, and this show, off to a flying start, will be pulling them in all around the country. It will be playing at thirteen other venues.