Dracula* (Lion & Unicorn Theatre)

Posted: February 13, 2015 in Theatre

Dracula_DigitalThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Two centuries before Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer, Bram Stoker was terrifying readers with his story of the vampire Count Dracula, which has gone on to inspire countless films over the years and a few stage versions too. This latest adaptation by Simon James Collier, who also directs, attempts to scale down Stoker’s work for a small fringe theatre, whilst retaining the essential ingredients of horror, mystery and rather weird romance. The story begins with a young lawyer, Jonathan Harker (Mark Lawson) being despatched to Transylvania to make arrangements for the Count, an Anglophile perhaps intending to spearhead the first influx of Romanian migrants, to buy property in London. A sign that all will not be well comes with news that a previous emissary, Renfield, was driven to madness by his experiences and now resides in an asylum. Waiting at home are Harker’s fiancee Mina (Josephine Rattigan) and her friend Lucy (Connie Jackson), two coy maidens so irritating that the coming bites to their necks seem deserved. In Act I, the cast all give earnest performances, however difficult the script may make it for them, but special mention must be made of Grant Leat, playing the crazed Renfield; any actor who can deliver the line “my spiders are essential to me, they are not giving me as great a nuisance as my flies”, whilst keeping a straight face, is worthy of praise. Cristinel Hogas is a camp Count, his long, straight, black hair and flowing black robes giving him a passing resemblance to Morticia Addams. A first sight of him leads to hopes for a hilarious spoof, but Collier’s writing is prosaic and stodgy and any risibility that follows is not of the sort that would have been intended. For the second act the action moves to Whitby in Yorkshire and vampire slayer Professor Van Helsing (Mitch Howell) arrives on the scene, which serves as a cue for titters to start rippling around the audience. Howell overcooks his performance shamelessly, seemingly ignoring the fact that he is out of step with the rest of the cast who are still playing it straight. Running for little under three hours (including interval), this is a laboured and pedestrian affair, far too occupied with irrelevant detail. When one actor races through a long speech at such speed so as to make it virtually indecipherable, it is a sure sign that even the writer/director himself recognises this problem. Occasional puffs of smoke to create a fog effect and a soundtrack of gusting winds and howling dogs are all the special effects offered to evoke an ambience of fear. It has to be accepted that a small fringe production would have neither the space nor the budget to match a Hollywood movie, but, if the creators of the show were not capable of re-imagining the piece as a unique theatrical experience more thrilling than this, it is difficult to understand why they embarked on the project at all. Frights are few and mild, consisting typically of someone asking “is anybody there?” whilst the Count is hiding behind a curtain. The only really scary moment is the very last one, but, up until then, this incarnation of Dracula is in desperate need of a stake through its heart.

Performance date: 12 February 2015

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