Written by Rob Morris
Directed by Ursula Burton and David Darlington
In which a dark and stormy night in Collinsport prompts Barnabas Collins (Collins) to tell Harry Cunningham (Haran) about the terrifying events that he experienced in Cairo with Professor Stokes and Dr. Julia Hoffman some time ago…
Flies hold a special place in some Dark Shadows fans’ hearts. Because of the show’s shoestring budget and rushed recording schedule, bloopers of all kinds were often left in the final takes. Flies occasionally made their way into the studio and onto the actors’ foreheads, usually at the most inopportune moments; this gave rise to the legendary “Collinsport Fly”, a droning nuisance that has pestered the residents of Collinwood since 1795 (and even has its own Facebook page!).
After listening to The Curse of Shurafa, these fans will probably never look at the Collinsport Fly quite so benignly, for flies are the herald and medium of Shurafa. A long-dead Egyptian nobleman, he delighted in inventing new methods of cruel and unusual punishment for his enemies until the tables were turned on him. With the magical safeguards preventing his return now weakening, Shurafa’s malign influence has spread across Cairo’s City of the Dead, his unwilling human minions covered in flies and infested with their hungry larvae – gruesome imagery made all the stronger by Andrew Collins’ skillful deliveries.
But enough about flies – I’m sure most readers of this review want to know how Dr. Julia Hoffman fares in this adventure. While Andrew Collins lowers his voice to perform Professor Stokes, he makes no attempt to emulate Grayson Hall’s raspy tones, which is just as well – such actions could have easily veered into unintentional parody. At least her actions remain pure Julia Hoffman throughout – acting as Barnabas’s conscience, coolly examining dead bodies once she’s overcome her disgust, and walking headlong into danger – all the while fighting off an insidious attempt to subsume her will.
With only three actors (and two of them playing relatively minor roles at that) the lion’s share of The Curse of Shurafa falls to Andrew Collins, who meets the challenge most ably. He successfully conveys the mutual respect and, yes, love that Barnabas and Julia have for one another, as well as expressing the vampire’s anguish as he faces an impossible dilemma engineered by Shurafa to ensure his rebirth. Collins has proven to be a worthy successor to the late Jonathan Frid as Barnabas; now Big Finish needs to set aside their qualms and trepidations to find that most elusive of creatures – someone who can give voice to Dr. Julia Hoffman without relying on the easy crutch of channeling Grayson Hall’s unique cadences.
Overall, The Curse of Shurafa is an intense tale, told strongly, which finally explains what Barnabas and Julia had been up to in Cairo after all the tantalising hints that have been dropped over the years in various Dark Shadows audio dramas. True, it has Professor Stokes seemingly unphased by a revelation that he never knew in the original series, but I’m willing to let it slide. (Maybe the good professor learned this secret before the events chronicled herein.) The possibilities of both a new recurring villain and further stories with Julia in are intriguing, and hopefully ones that get followed up on in the near future.
Verdict: A grisly character piece that will have fans of Dr. Julia Hoffman abuzz… 8/10
John S. Hall