REVIEW: The Gorbals Vampire – Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Above the Gothic gatehouse of one of Glasgow’s cities of the dead, the Southern Necropolis, the sky flames red from the fiery furnaces of the nearby Dixon Blazes Iron Works. Hundreds of local children, from toddlers to teens, armed with stakes and knives, storm the graveyard in search of a vampire, not the highly romanticised version of modern times, but a seven foot, iron-toothed killer of two young boys. It’s 1954, it’s Glasgow’s Gorbals and it really happened…well…

Inspired by local myths and bogey man stories, and fuelled by US horror comics, an urban legend is born – The Gorbals Vampire.

There are “two wee empty chairs” at the back of a Gorbals’ primary school class, Chinese whispers in the playground escalate into full-blown hysteria as the “creative thinking” kids debate the fate of their two school pals. Night after night until the sun goes down, the pint-sized vigilantes return to hunt their man, and only the rain and the intervention of local headmasters puts an end to the marauder’s madness.

What would have been consigned to the local archives gained worldwide media coverage and a backlash against the American horror comics that were gaining popularity in the country. This mass indignation also spawned the 1955 Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, laws still in force today.

National treasure in the making, Johnny McKnight has not only created a work filled with humour, it is also a work cleverly and subtly interwoven with a social commentary on tenement life in Glasgow in the fifties – the overcrowding, neglect and social injustice, how this section of the city was unloved and unlistened to. This was the hardest part of town, and in the eyes of the police, if they were cowering indoors frightened of a 7-foot vampire then they weren’t on the streets bothering them.

The community cast of over 50 players makes the stage throb with life against the brilliant set design of Neil Haynes and the wonderfully atmospheric lighting of Stuart Jenkins, all enhanced by Kim Beveridge’s subtle but highly effective video projections – you can almost feel the metal tang in the air from Dixon Blazes.

This is a glorious celebration of Glasgow and what it means to be Glaswegian – when the chips are down, the community pulls together as one, the city’s divisions are forgotten and the people unite in a common cause.

A real gem of a production.