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.