Tag Archives: Ben Hart

Sucks to be you

DRACULA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 20th November, 2018

 

The Halloween spirit lingers at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre with a visit from this new touring production.  The first thing that strikes you is Sean Cavanagh’s set of towering Gothic arches that glide around and reconfigure the space, giving us the grandeur of Castle Dracula and the imposing claustrophobia of Dr Seward’s lunatic asylum, among other locations.  Paul Ewing’s sound design provides jump shocks and, in combination with Ben Cracknell’s lightning-like lighting, keeps us on edge: we don’t know when the next loud noise might come, or what might be glimpsed in the next eyeball-searing flash.  In fact, Cracknell’s lighting is effective for what it doesn’t show as well as what it illuminates.  Atmosphere is only part of it.  Add to this, special effects from illusionist Ben Hart and the stage is set for Bram Stoker’s classic and familiar tale.

As you can probably gauge, the technical aspects of this production are important and impressive.  They are matched by a strong ensemble, a cast that seems to be comprised entirely of handsome-looking actors!   Andrew Horton’s Jonathan Harker, for example; he goes through the mill a bit, suffers PTSD, before regaining his strength for some heroics.  Evan Milton’s Dr Seward is a man of action and convention, but the object of his affections, the feisty Lucy (Jessica Webber) is more open about sexuality.  Webber brings an amazing physicality to the role as she transforms into a bloodsucker.  Contrasting with Lucy is the staider and more dependable Mina, Jonathan’s fiancée, (an appealing Olivia Swann) who, in this version by Jenny King, finally becomes an assertive force in the action.

Cheryl Campbell is in fine form as a gender-swapped Renfield, masticating flies and rambling – whatever the gender, the zoophagous Renfield is a plum of a part.  Philip Bretherton is an affable Van Helsing, showing that foreign visitors to our shores are not all Eastern Europeans, coming over here, taking our blood…

Speaking of whom, it seems we’re waiting quite a while for the Count himself to make an appearance but, in the shape of Glen Fox, Dracula is worth waiting for.  Tall and aristocratic, Fox imbues the character with an ironic humour in the scenes in which he plays host to Jonathan Harker, and a cold menace in his attacks.  He can park his coffin in my cellar any time.

Full of loud noises, bright lights and deep shadows, and pounding, stirring music, this elegant production doesn’t lack bite.  The adaptation is fairly faithful to Stoker’s novel, but there are enough surprises along the way to infuse the familiar story with freshness, to give it new blood, you might say.  I’m going to stick my neck out as say I loved this piece of Victorian Gothic, which makes the most of modern-day tech to thrill and to excite.

©NOBBY CLARK+44(0)7941-515770
+44(0)20-7274-2105
nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

Evan Milton, Philip Bretherton, Glen Fox, Olivia Swann, and Andrew Horton battle in the rain (Photo: Nobby Clark)

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Re: Possessed

THE EXORCIST

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th October, 2016

 

William Peter Blatty’s novel became one of the most famous and celebrated horror films of the 1970s.  Now, John Pielmeier adapts the book for the stage, giving rise to questions like ‘How are they going to do that?’.  Fans of the film need not worry: all the iconic moments are here.  Director Sean Mathias uses every trick in the book of theatrical tricks to present what we expect to see: rocking beds, projectile vomit – this production really makes heads turn!  And it’s a real showcase for the technical team.  The illusions are designed by Ben Hart and supported by atmospheric, cinematic lighting by Tim Mitchell, who makes use of darkness and chiaroscuro to both hide and reveal what’s going on.  Adam Cork’s sound design surrounds us with eerie noises and disembodied voices.  Anna Fleischle’s set is versatile and evocative – Nick Gingell’s stage management team pull off wonders, changing scenes in pitch blackness so the action can flow from seamlessly from place to place.

Out front a strong cast delivers an engaging script, laced with humour to relieve the tension.  Jenny Seagrove is excellent as Chris, movie star and mum, unravelling as her daughter’s plight worsens.  Clare Louise Connolly is Regan, the child in question, and gives an astonishing performance as the ten-year-old falling prey to evil.  Although she spends much of the show in bed, she must be exhausted by the end!  Adam Garcia’s troubled Father Karras, trying to work through his grief over his late mother, finds redemption – the keynote of the production is that the cast play with earnest.  The material is bunkum – gloriously so – but the actors help us suspend our disbelief and go along for the ride with them.  Peter Bowles is fantastic as the titular exorcist, the ailing Father Merrin, managing to be imperious and vulnerable at the same time.  There is sterling support from Joseph Wilkins’s Father Joe, Mitchell Mullen’s Doctor Klein, and Todd Boyce’s Doctor Strong, a succession of ‘experts’ trying to diagnose what’s wrong with the little girl. Tristram Wymark is good fun as the camp and avuncular film director, Burke, and is party to one of the great shocks of the evening.  There are plenty of moments of grand guignol, to be sure, but what keeps us hooked is the unsettling atmosphere.  Anything might happen and right before our very eyes.  But among all the thrills and frissons, I can’t help thinking the devil doesn’t half sound like Sir Ian McKellan.

A gripping funfair ride of a show – perhaps it’s more frightening if you’re a believer – the production plays the horror movie tropes to great effect.  Wonderful entertainment for a chilly autumn night.

adam-garcia-as-father-damien-karras-clare-louise-connolly-as-regan-and-peter-bowles-as-father-merrin-in-the-exorcist

Bringing them to their knees: Adam Garcia, Clare Louise Connolly and Peter Bowles (Photo: Robert Day)