King’s Theatre Edinburgh – Until 3rd November.
Reviewed by James Knight
A darkened stage suddenly illuminates to show a motionless body. Another flash and suddenly four hellish figures are feasting on its blood. And so the Touring Consortium Theatre Company’s adaptation of the classic ‘Dracula’ begins.
Billed as a multi-sensory experience, this production aims to invigorate what is all too often a neglected genre in theatre – horror. Horror is particularly tricky to pull off in live theatre – do it well and you have The Woman in Black or Ghost Stories. ‘Dracula’ has the added disadvantage of being an adaptation of one of the most famous horror stories ever told, and so the real challenge is to surprise people with a story that they may not know well, but are more than familiar with the title character.
And so we are treated to the infamous Count literally stepping out of the darkness, a brutal disembowelling then staking of another vampire, a horrific birthing scene, and, in a truly impressive end to Act One, Dracula turning into a flock of bats.
All these are aided by the design – the set, designed by Sean Cavanagh, is made up of imposing Gothic pillars, and the music, by Paul Ewing, is suitably threatening. The lighting (Ben Cracknell) is also crucial to the atmosphere, cloaking the actors in darkness. Where the production struggles, however, is creating a genuine feeling of uneasiness and fear throughout.
Part of this is down to the script, which in some places cleaves perhaps too close to the original text (originally the book was written in the first person as a collection of letters and journal entries from the various characters), and some scenes lack the emotion necessary for the actors to connect with each other and the audience.
Another problem lies in the audience’s familiarity with the character of Dracula. Glen Fox masters the suave, charming and brutal aspects of the Count, commanding the stage whenever he appears impeccably suited to sink his fangs into whichever poor victim is next. However, in a dinner scene between Dracula and Jonathan Harker (Andrew Horton), it seemed more like the audience was in on a joke that Harker was not comprehending, rather than a creeping dread that his life was being toyed with by a master manipulator.
Purists might complain of the gender-swapping of the insect-and-rodent-devouring servant Renfield (Cheryl Campbell, clearly enjoying herself), but this does allow the production to explore how Dracula views his underlings, especially women, and how little they mean to him. Mina Harker (Olivia Swann) is also given more agency than she was in the original novel, and the three traditional ‘Brides’, or ‘Vixens’ in this case, have a male added to their ranks – proving Dracula’s sexual experience is not simply limited to that of the opposite sex.
In addition – ‘Dracula’ is to be the Touring Consortium Theatre Company’s last production due to a lack of funding. After seeing a lot of school and youth groups, this is a great shame that young people will be denied such an excellent introduction to theatre and what it can accomplish.
So while some of the scares may be gratuitous, and the ending seconds create a massive plot hole, by that time it won’t matter. You’ll likely be won over by the chilling effects and sexual energy laced throughout the tale of the world’s most famous vampire.