The well-worn tale of the vampire bat who prowls by night, biting his victims on the neck and draining their blood remains, but now we have modern technology – surely this monster can’t beat that! Well, yes he can – going so far as to infect his victims with a vampire virus, just like a computer, but it still takes the old stake in the heart and loads of garlic to defeat him…not to mention silver bullets.
Ruari Murchison has designed an elaborate set. It’s constructed on different levels, incorporating a variety of slopes (a real challenge for the actors), and is dominated by two enormous angled ‘computer’ screens. On these, the audience can view the messages and pictures exchanged between estate agent Jonathan Harker and his girlfriend Mina - messages which never reach their destination, having been blocked by the computer-literate count. Now there's a twist to the tale.
Intent on selling an English property to the minted Count Dracula, Jonathan heads to Transylvania, where he’s immediately accosted by a distraught local woman insisting he wears a crucifix (out comes the instant translator for making sense of the Romanian). On arrival at his destination, he’s greeted by the title character, who Richard Bremner portrays in a splendidly laid-back performance. Thank goodness for a Dracula with a sense of humour. Following a spine-chilling greeting, Bremner’s Count lightens the mood by playfully embracing “the family style”. Later, when opening a coffin containing the bloodied body of one of his victims, with stake through the heart and minus a head, his aside - “Now that’s not very nice” – allows the audience to indulge in some welcome laughter.
As the count’s nemesis, Christopher Cazenove makes for an impressive Professor van Helsing, earnestly trying to rid the world of vampires. Elsewhere, Laura Howard and Katie Foster-Barnes bring warmth to the parts of the two girlfriends, Mina and Lucy, and Ben Keating delivers heroically as Renfield, the tortured soul incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. As the unfortunate Jonathan, Giles Fagan is also convincing, charting his character’s panic as he realises he’s become a prisoner and all his technology is useless.
But, despite the actors’ best efforts, Bryony Lavery’s rather laboured modern version of Stoker’s classic makes sustaining the necessary atmosphere of terror and suspense difficult. Promotional material for this Dracula warns that it’s “unsuitable for under 14s or the faint-hearted”. I’d say that’s an overstatement. On the scariness scale, The Woman in Black wins by a mile.
- Sheila Ann Connor (reviewed at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley)