Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 11th October, 2018
Dracula is one of those characters that has become part of global culture; like Tarzan or Peter Pan, everyone has heard of him, thanks in no small part to the innumerable film versions of the story and its spin-offs. The original Bram Stoker novel can come as a surprise to first-time readers due to its epistolary nature: the story is told through letters between the characters, so it has multi-first-person viewpoints. Here Mark Webster’s faithful-ish adaptation makes great use of characters reading what they are writing, or from letters they have received, often as preludes to flashbacks or reconstructions of incidents.
It gets off to a strong start with Adrian Rosu capturing our attention as a Sea Captain making entries in his log. Rosu’s authentic Romanian accent (he’s from that part of the world) immediately evokes the atmosphere as he recounts incidents in which a mysterious figure on board picks off his men. Webster begins the play with the arrival of the Count in England – the book’s opening events (Jonathan Harker’s experiences at Castle Dracula) are saved for later in extended flashbacks. Rosu also appears as Harker, giving his RP accent an airing, and clearly portraying the various stages of Harker’s health, pre- and post-Transylvania.
Taresh Solanki is a nervy, passionate Doctor Seward, while Chris Del Manso’s Professor Van Helsing is authoritative and eccentric without going over the top, in a commanding performance. Nisaro Karim is a tall and burly Arthur – is the character American? I can’t remember and I can’t tell. Karim doubles as a tall and burly Count; in these scenes Karim’s stage presence is stronger. His Dracula towers over proceedings. You wouldn’t want to mess with him.
The female members of the cast are uniformly excellent. Nichola Woolley’s perky Lucy really comes to life, ironically, when the character joins the ranks of the undead. Danica Corns’s Mina has fortitude – this is no shrinking-violet, damsel in distress. Kaz Luckins is compellingly wild-eyed and intense as a gender-swapped mental patient, the zoophagous Renfield, but it is Carys Jones who makes the strongest impression of all in a range of roles: asylum warder Hennessey, Sister Agatha, Lucy’s mum…
Director Simon Ravenhill’s set is multi-purpose, coming into its own when two or three scenes are staged concurrently, the action cross-cutting between them. The intimate, even cosy, stage at the Blue Orange, means we can take it all in, without having to move our heads like spectators at a tennis match. There is a lot going on but it is skilfully presented so that we never lose focus. The action sequences, the outbursts of violence, are very well staged.
Dean Bowyer’s lighting makes shrewd use of red and green colour washes, and the occasional chilly blue. Mark Webster’s sound design successfully evokes scenery: crowds etc, while also providing a great deal of the eeriness. Renfield’s flies, for example, and the otherworldly voices of the vampire women, which are extremely well done.
Inevitably, I suppose, it’s a very wordy piece and it runs a bit long, but the sterling efforts of the strong cast keep us hooked – even if we are familiar with the tale. There are a few instances when the energy drops a little but, this being the first night of the run, I am sure things will tighten up as the week progresses.
An atmospheric, tonally perfect piece with moments of menace and an unusual twist at the end I didn’t see coming, this production is definitely worth an evening of your time.