Let’s begin with the best things about Mark Simpson’s adaptation of the best-seller from one of this year’s birthday boys, Bram Stoker. The Curse of Dracula has a very good set by Maurice Rubens, thoroughly atmospheric and amazingly flexible. Director Mark Sterling and his team rustle up some effective lighting and sound – not to say, special – effects.
Simpson’s version begins and ends with modern archaeologists, doing a dig (actually, it's more of a break-through) at a disused 19th century lunatic asylum. Then we’re into the familiar story. It’s closer to the book than many versions though, going purely by the opening night, neither Simpson nor Sterling seem to be quite sure whether it is to be played straight or for laughs.
Horror, of course, begets nervous laughter. It’s an audience’s safety valve. The cast does largely play it straight, though Ian Targett as Dracula starts off by being suavely sinister and then lapses towards caricature. Stoker’s real-life boss, the actor-manager Henry Irving, may well have been the inspiration for the character; Irving played a lot of hokum in his time, but, as far as one can judge the late 19th century from the 21st, he treated it as serious drama.
It might have been the enveloping nature of the set, or the auditorium acoustics when not completely full, or even a bad epidemic of that well-known theatrical disease known as the mumbles, but I found it difficult always to hear what was being said. The prologue and epilogue were particularly vocally foggy which, as the lighting at that point was suitably murky, really didn’t help comprehension.
Clive Flint’s otherwise interesting double act as Renfield and (later) Van Helsing and Katherine French’s Lucy appeared to be particularly affected. Mark Jackson carries most of the narrative elements as Jonathan Harker, with Kate Middleton as his wife Mina, a young lady with a mind of her own. Asylum director John Seward is a down-to-earth Simon Snashall, not the most romantic of fiancés, but a stalwart one none the less.