Bram Stoker's text for his 1897 gothic horror novel is front and centre in Blackeyed Theatre's admirable production of Dracula.
Sticking close to its source material, the play tells its story of the Transylvanian Count who travels to England with blood-sucking on his agenda with great clarity and theatrical ingenuity, its cast of five doubling and trebling to strong effect, as the production's atmosphere by turn grips and begins to grow taut.
Adaptor John Ginman and director Eliot Giuraloraca have set the piece in the year the novel was released, and so what we get is a well-conceived Victorian melodrama using staging techniques from the period. Under Charlotte McClelland's atmospheric lighting, the effects are delivered on-stage by the actors and are both simple in thought and execution and a joy to behold. In particular, the flight of Dracula from his Transylvanian castle leaves one impressed by what can be shown on stage using so little.
The cast are a multi-talented bunch, not only switching between roles but playing musical instruments and showcasing fine singing voices in a couple of choral numbers. Will Bryant is a particular standout, switching between our hero Jonathan Hawker, all earnest heroism, and the devious and agile asylum patient Reinfield, while Rachel Winters gives Mina Hawker a stronger feminist agenda then that which Stoker originally conceived.
The reason this production doesn't chill to the bone is in its portrayal of the undead Count. Paul Kevin-Taylor's Dracula is a tad too reminiscent of the counting Count from Sesame Street, theatrical and camp and seemingly flown in from the worst of 1970's Hammer Horror, which seems to bat against the grain of the piece. He is better as Van Helsing, stiller, more thoughtful and a worthwhile adversary to the undead, but this double does prove problematic as the play reaches its climax, and unfortunately does make the finale feel flat after what has come before.
But as Taylor delivers an added epilogue by writer Ginman that expounds on our current interest in all things vamp, Blackeyed Theatre can reflect on a successful re-telling of where it all began. It may not add anything new to the mix but for those, like me, who are a fan of the book or the gothic genre, it's a production that really should be seen.
- Kris Hallett