Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh 3 November 2018
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Noisy fun is to be had in the touring Dracula at the King’s, in a production that lacks depth but is unashamedly crowd-pleasing, not to say crowd-scaring.
Bram Stoker’s story of the bloodthirsty Transylvanian Count surely needs no introduction. There have been many versions since, but Jenny King’s new adaptation (for the Touring Consortium Theatre Company, the Everyman Cheltenham and Ewing Entertainment) seeks to tread a fine line.
It sticks fairly close to the original (although with the odd surprise twist) while trying to appeal to a modern audience in terms of its staging. It starts, quite literally, with a bang, and from that moment thunderclaps, flashing lights and stage illusions are never far away. Eduard Lewis’ direction is often more like a blockbuster movie than a play, with booming surround sound, jump-scares and cheapish thrills.
A great deal of this works very well; Paul Ewing’s sound and Ben Cracknell’s lighting are undeniably impressive. However, the shocks are overused and definitely suffer from the law of diminishing returns. Similarly, Sean Cavanagh’s set is towering and versatile, but the constant moving around to accommodate a constant parade of short scenes becomes irritating, however impressively it is done.
There is also a danger that the spectacle will override the drama. That this never happens is partly due to a couple of the company’s more experienced actors.
Philip Bretherton is probably best known for the sitcom As Time Goes By and is saddled with an accent you would think twice about giving an insurance-peddling meerkat, but nevertheless gives vampire-hunter Van Helsing considerable heft. That he can get away with roaring ‘there is no time to lose and much earth to sanctify’ shows a praiseworthy commitment to the story, however ludicrous his waving of crucifixes and wild garlic may be to modern audiences.
This is by no means the first version of Dracula where the show is comprehensively stolen by the Count’s insect-guzzling acolyte Renfield. Here the role is made female, and the magnificent Cheryl Campbell excels both in the character’s more expansive scenes and in her moments of comparative pathos.
Glen Fox’s Dracula does veer uncomfortably – if understandably – close to cartoonish, but he brings a definite physical presence to the role.
Some versions of the story, notably Liz Lochhead’s, have explored some of the hidden – and not so hidden – themes of sexuality and gender in the original. Gothic profundity is in short supply here, pushed aside by the desire to shock. Unfortunately, the script in the first act in particular (perhaps influenced by the novel’s epistolary format) is rather stilted, even stolid.
The younger members of the cast have correspondingly less chance to give their characters depth as a result, but the playing is always at least sound.
a great deal of energy
Jessica Webber’s Lucy is transformed from naive girlishness to (literal) vampishness with a great deal of energy. Olivia Swann’s Mina follows a similar trajectory, but is more hampered by the production’s desire for constant surprises and wrong-footing of the audience.
A scene from Dracula Pic Nobby Clark
Andrew Horton’s befuddled, upstanding Harker and Evan Milton’s put-upon, thoroughly decent Dr Seward provide strong support.
A large supporting cast sometimes seem called upon more to do that endless scene-shifting than to actually act, but throw themselves into everything with a will.
So much tongue-in-cheek breathlessness does threaten to capsize this vehicle, but it stays afloat due largely to a sense of fun and a willingness to scare the audience silly. And if that doesn’t work, make them jump with another loud noise.
Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 30 October – Saturday 4 November 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dracula.