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A two-act Penny Dreadful by Charles Ludlam in the style of his "Theatre of the Absurd", The Mystery Of Irma Vep is a satire of several theatrical and film genres, including Victorian melodrama, farce, and the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca. Lady Enid has just married Lord Edgar Hillcrest and moved to his ancestral home on the moors, Mandacrest. Lord Edgar's first wife, Irma Vep, was killed by a werewolf attack, but he still keeps her portrait on the mantelpiece. The house is also populated by two servants, the one-legged handyman Nicodemus Underwood and Jane Twisden the maid who has her own interest in Lord Edgar. In the course of a flashback, the audience also meets Alcazar, an Egyptian guide, and Pev Amri, an ancient mummy. In total, there are eight characters, four male and four female. And two actors of the same sex to portray all of them.
This play provides examples of:
- Bandage Mummy: Pev Amri initially shows up as this until she's brought back to life by a mystic ritual.
- Creepy Housekeeper: Nicodemus and Jane each have their quirks.
- Fauxlosophic Narration: Lady Enid delivers a beautiful example at the close of the show which ultimately says nothing, resolves nothing, but perfectly fits within the genre.
- Lampshade Hanging: Multiple cases
- In one scene, Lady Enid indicates that she is so fond of Nicodemus that sometimes she feels like she is Nicodemus.
- Later in the same scene, Lady Enid requests that Nicodemus be brought into the room to which Jane responds that he can't come into the room for obvious reasons.
- Loads and Loads of Roles: As noted above, eight characters and two actors. Stagings of the show generally require at least two costumers for each actor to allow for the rapid changes (60 quick costume changes over just 100 minutes!) just off set, generally while the character holds a conversation with themselves.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: Nicodemus gets attacked by a creature on the moors and later has an onstage transformation into his wolf form. Details of the costume are not specified in the script, but are generally relatively simple to allow for a quick change.
- Say My Name: Lord Edgar and Lady Enid seem fond of this tropes including one scene where they hold a conversation of about 20 lines just saying each other's names in different inflections.
- Significant Anagram: When Irma Vep reveals her true nature, she indicates this is exactly what her name is.
- Shout-Out: At one point, Lady Enid excitedly delivers the line, "The lights are dimming!"
- Talking to Himself: Nicodemus and Lady Enid have multiple conversations in the show, as do Lord Edgar and Jane.
- Wolf Man: Nicodemus is attacked by a werewolf just off set and later transforms into one himself.