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Bowjangles bring Edinburgh Fringe hit ‘Dracula in Space’ to Kent

As a Kent-based theatre, culture and travel writer, I am always thrilled by the prospect of national performance tours and arts festivals, as it provides local audiences with the opportunity to see acts that cross genres and don’t fit into the standard music and theatre categories. This is exactly the case with Bowjangles: a string quartet, theatre and comedy fusion group who will be in the county this weekend, following a run at Edinburgh Fringe last year. Featuring Ezme Gaze, Oliver Izod, Bertie Anderson Haggart and Mitch McGugan, the quartet have been performing together for 15+ years. Bringing their festival hit ‘Dracula in Space’ to Hemsted Park: a performance space on the site of the Benenden School in Cranbrook, I had the opportunity to interview cellist Ezme ahead of their arrival in Kent. I was inspired by the group’s passion for classical music, but also their desire to engage with audiences through comedy and theatrical elements.

Q: How did you get into music and the arts?

I saw a cello when I was 3 and wouldn’t stop talking about it until my parents got me one when I was 6. It was a similar story for all the other members of the group too. We all had regular instrumental lessons as kids, then Bertie and I met at the Purcell School [for Young Musicians] together when we were 16. Bertie, Mitch and I went to music college and Ollie went to Drama school. 

Ezme Gaze, Oliver Izod, Bertie Anderson Haggart and Mitch McGugan | Dracula in Space by Bowjangles
From left to right: Ezme Gaze, Oliver Izod, Bertie Anderson Haggart and Mitch McGugan. © Steve Ullathorne

Q: With over 15 years of performing under your belts, can you tell me about the beginnings of Bowjangles and how the group was formed?

We started busking in Covent Garden as teenagers and quite quickly realised that the more we looked up and out whilst playing, the more we connected with the audience, the more fun we had (and money we made)! When we ditched our sheet music and started to really play, the magic really started. 

Q: What inspired you to take the traditional string quartet model and combine it with comedy and theatre?

I personally never felt like I would fit into the traditional classical music world, even though I loved playing my cello more than anything else. Discovering Covent Garden, at a point where I was actually really disillusioned with this world I seemed to be destined for, was like a breath of air. Joining up with other like minded musicians in that special place made me realise that anything was possible. Simple movement whilst playing came first, just bopping about to begin with, and then gradually more choreographed routines. We didn’t set out to be ‘comedy’ but we had to chat in between pieces and people just seemed to find us funny! Then one by one as we gained confidence we each began to sing.

Over time as our shows developed from just musical numbers one after the other to actual theatrical productions with a story running through them, we found we had to learn to act. It has actually been such an organic process over many years. Even now we are still adding layers to our performance. Our last show ‘Excalibow’ had us experimenting with puppeteering, using our instruments to make moving figures, and [Dracula in Space] has seen us using musical backing tracks and sound effects [for the first time]. It’s like we can’t stop pushing the boundaries further and further!

Q: You have taken shows to Edinburgh in the past, what is your favourite part about the festival experience?

Edinburgh is an incredible experience, it is impossible to pinpoint our favourite bit. It is a whole month for a start; so much happens – ups, downs and the occasional sideways! Performing the show in the same venue 27 times in a row is brilliant, as usually we are in and out of venues the same day. Then there is the food, the people, the parties, the world class street shows available for everyone to see; the sheer creativity surrounding you everywhere you turn. Being able to see loads of different shows (at any time of day and night) is so inspiring. It’s also fantastic to see the Free Fringe continuing to blossom, there are many shows where you pay what you can at the end, [rather than paying a fixed ticket price]. All of this in one of the UK’s most beautiful, friendly and cool cities. 

Ezme Gaze and Oliver Izod | Dracula in Space by Bowjangles
Ezme Gaze and Oliver Izod. © Steve Ullathorne

Q: Dracula in Space debuted at last year’s festival but was created during the 2020 – 2021 lockdowns. How did it feel to finally present the show in front of an audience?

It felt amazing to be back in front of audiences. What was so exciting for us was that creating a show over Zoom essentially meant we went in a direction we may never have gone in otherwise. All that time at home meant that Bertie got experimenting with making spacey backing tracks and weird sound effects, and Ollie had time to write a fantastic script. Covid ruined a lot of things but it gave us one precious commodity we rarely had as busy freelancers: extended time to really be creative. To finally be able to present audiences with something that had really pushed us in ways we didn’t previously think were feasible or even possible felt so exciting. 

Q: Combining comedy, classic horror and string music is certainly an intriguing show description. What can audiences expect from Dracula in Space?

A string quartet who do not once sit down, not even once, and who all sing and dance whilst playing their instruments. Brilliant original music by Bertie with some recognisable and epic classical pieces and motifs (Holst’s The Planets, of course) woven throughout the whole show. Joke after joke thanks to our in-house script writer and second violinist Ollie and stunning virtuosic violin playing from our captain Mitch. A spacey set with lots of surprises built in, a dancing cellist and a whole song about periods. 

Q: Has the show been adapted for this Spring tour?

Last year the show had to practically split in two for Edinburgh, so of course for this tour it then had to be scaled back up to two 40-minute acts for theatre audiences. During this weird, mind bending (for us) and time warping concertina, new ideas were released, suggested and worked on. As I said before we are always adding new layers and dimensions to our shows and performances. It’s never ending and keeps us on our toes!

Bowjangles: Dracula in Space
Bowjangles: Dracula in Space. © Steve Ullathorne

Q: You will be performing at Hemsted Park in Kent this weekend, have you performed at venues in the area before? 

Weirdly, I used to go to summer music camp at Benenden School [where Hemsted Park is] every year when I was a child, so it will be incredibly nostalgic and probably quite weird for me to return there after 25 years. We have played at many venues in the immediate and wider Kent area, mainly supported by the fantastic Kent Rural Touring Scheme ‘Applause’. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to about Saturday’s performance?

The stage being set, props all in place and waiting in the wings to make our first entrance. I love that initial build up of adrenalin and just playing with my besties! Even after 16 years there are still moments I just have to pinch myself that I get to hang out, play lush music and lark around on stage with some of my closest and oldest friends. 

Booking tickets to see Dracula in Space in Kent

You can catch Bowjangles in action with ‘Dracula in Space’ at Hemsted Park on Saturday 4th May at 7:00pm, with tickets available via the venue’s website. A huge thank you to Ezme for providing me with an insight into the group’s early beginnings, their memories of the Edinburgh Fringe and providing an early preview of Saturday’s performance. I hope you have a wonderful time performing here in Kent.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx



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