The Play: A new play by Johnny McKnight, performed by amateur actors and inspired by real-life events which took place in the Southern Necropolis in 1954.
In 1954, playgrounds across the Gorbals were abuzz with rumours of a man with iron teeth who had abducted and eaten two local young boys. One night in late September, hundreds of children aged four to fourteen gathered at the Southern Necropolis. Armed with whatever they could find, they mounted a courageous campaign to track down and kill the Gorbals Vampire.
Inspired by real-life events, Johnny McKnight’s tongue-in-cheek script is inspired by the dramatic events of that night, brought to life by a large company of up to 50 performers drawn from the local community and further afield, directed by Guy Hollands and Neil Packham.
The Review: In September 1954, the kids of the Gorbals little suspected that they would pass into the history of Glasgow – and yet they did. If you haven’t heard this story before, the short version is that the kids of the Gorbals all ganged up and went hunting in the Southern Necropolis for a vampire that had put the bite on two of their own.
Over three nights, they haunted the Southern Necropolis, looking for the vampire with iron teeth, armed with a plethora of weapons ranging from what they could sneak out of their Mum’s kitchen, Dad’s toolbox or whatever they could create themselves. Oddly Historical’s account certainly puts the bite on this story in their article and Citizens Theatre has also posted a video on their YouTube channel with some of those actually involved recalling events.
I’d heard the story and I always fancied finding out a bit more, so when Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre popped up in my social media feed with the news that they were going to put on a play about this, it was a must see. The fact that Frank Quitely had done the poster certainly helped to fuel my determination to see it.
My original interest was due to the fact that I understood that this incident had helped fuel the moral panic over the importing of US Horror Comics at the time and in part led to them being banned, which in turn may have helped Marvel and DC gain such traction in the 1960s, when their comics began to be imported in larger numbers.
However, this black comedy pointed to several culprits for the panic, such as the fact that Scotland has its own monsters in our mythology that were as terrifying as vampires with iron teeth, such as mothers who could do a world of laldy on you a lot quicker than any vampire you had not seen!
The Citizens Theatre Community might be composed of amateur actors that support the theatre, but I was engrossed in The Gorbals Vampire from the very first entrance to the final scene. I’ve seen professional casts struggle to put on as good a performance as the one that I was fortunate to witness.
It was a play worth watching as a piece of art, but its examination of an historical event added to my enjoyment of the play. And to meet Johnny McKnight, the writer of the piece, afterwards was certainly an added bonus.
Just in case some readers of downthetubes feel cheated by this theatre review on what is primarily a comics site, here’s the limited edition poster that is being sold by the theatre. The limited run is signed by Frank, but I cheated and made my slightly more limited by asked Johnny to sign it, too!
Normally, this is where I would sign off, but I have to finish with what I think was the best line of the entire performance.
“If they cannae see our tears, how are they gonnae hear our screams?”
• To mark the community production of The Gorbals Vampire, comic artist Frank Quitely (Marvel’s New X-Men, Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy) has signed a number of A2 prints of the original artwork created for The Gorbals Vampire.
These posters are priced as £25 and can be purchased directly from the Box Office or online here (additional postage costs apply). Proceeds from poster sales will go towards Citizens learning activities
• Follow Johnny McKnight on Twitter @andomaccomplic
• This review was first published on my own blog, Nothing But A Fan