Chris Abbott | 15 Nov 2018 11:27am
There have been many attempts at putting Dracula on stage, some more serious and others opting for high camp, but Liz Lochhead’s 1985 version attempts to strip away some of the plot and to focus rather more on the female characters than is usually the case: indeed, Dracula is quite a small role in this play, in terms of stage time, compared to Lucy and Mina.
Director Michael Thonger, also responsible for the evocative sound effects, chose to set the piece within an expressionist aesthetic and this worked very well, especially against the striking set by Ian Nichols, with its exaggerated angles. The varied settings were established by items of furniture, particularly a series of angled beds which helped to focus the downstage action. Helpful sounds and musical interludes separated the scenes but it seemed odd that sets were changed in silence apart from the inevitable clunks and clattering but then the music (Lewis Jay White) cut in as the lights went up for the next scene; perhaps it was intended to underscore the set change?
Less helpful, too, were the upstage rostra where some characters, particularly Renfield, would have been more effective if allowed to move closer to the audience. The same was true of the climactic hammering of stakes which tended to happen far upstage with characters with their backs to the audience.
In this version, of course, it is what the characters say that is the focus rather than what they do; and it has to be said that almost three hours is a long time to tell a story like this, especially on the seats at the Electric which I suggest have around a two hour comfort limit. On occasions it was difficult to hear what some people were saying, either through lack of projection or perhaps a first night tendency to drop the voice at the end of a line or to rush through it, especially when characters were speaking towards the sides of the stage.
Despite these slight reservations, there were some good performances and no weak ones. Fiona Buckland Dos Santos very much looked the part of Lucy Westerman and gave a fully committed and thoughtful performance, even doubling at one point as a vampire in a highly effective scene where Dracula’s previous brides appeared from within the bed. Gavin Brennan gave a sensitive performance as Harker with Tim Brown as a nicely contrasted Seward. Among the servants and medical staff, Sarah Martin made her mark as a very believable and sympathetic observer to all that was going on.
As Renfield, here transformed to Miss Renfield, Malin Karp was extremely impressive in what is a very difficult part, especially when required to be played at the back of the stage and mostly rooted to the spot. In Lochhead’s script Renfield is male as in the original, but is made more central and Karp could easily have played the role as male and very successfully. Changing the character to female did unbalance the story. Renfield is essentially the antithesis to Dracula: he is the feared man shut away in an asylum who then enters a woman’s bedroom but is in fact trying to come to her rescue. Cross-gender casting is to be welcomed but this does not have to mean changing the gender of the character.
The strongest performances were from three actors whose diction and delivery was exemplary with every word heard, and who all had the measure of the genre. As Van Helsing, Kim Ferguson gave a ripe portrayal in a role which requires a significant level of exuberance and artificiality in order to get us to believe in the whole rigmarole of garlic and crucifixes. His enemy Dracula was also played in traditional style by Phill Griffith, an imposing figure and with a voice to suit the character, although I didn’t spot the expected fangs. They might have been there however; the moody lighting meant that for much of the time faces were backlit and not always easy to see.
As Mina, Debby Dean grew in stature as her role in the story developed, and her quiet and understated performance contrasted well with the more Gothic happenings around her. A thoughtful and accomplished production of this difficult play then, and all involved deserved a larger audience than was in evidence for the first night.
- : admin
- : 14/11/2018