DRACULA: THE BLOODY TRUTH
Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 15th August, 2017
Exeter-based troupe, Le Navet Bête (The Stupid Turnip) bring their zany antics to the Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre for a couple of sell-out performances of this new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s immortal novel. In this one, Professor Abraham Van Helsing is our host, declaiming Stoker for misappropriating the truth. Dracula, Van Helsing asserts, is in fact, fact. So begins a very silly evening, as Van Helsing and his three associates reconstruct events for our information.
It’s a madcap couple of hours where the theatricality is as heightened as the silliness. Draining the same comic vein as The Play That Goes Wrong the group’s apparently shambolic efforts at drama are relentlessly funny, as door handles come off, props are destroyed and even the proscenium arch comes tumbling down. There is physical comedy too as the energetic quartet dart around, sometimes portraying different characters in the same scene, and the script has a witty spirit that gives the actors plenty of scope to be hilarious. The cast is comprised of Matt Freeman, Nick Blunt, Dan Bianchi and Al Dunn – but with all the dashing around it’s hard to keep track of who is whom.
John Nicholson’s direction maintains a frenetic pace, making judicious use of tech to enhance the relentless parade of gags. “I hate theatre,” is Van Helsing’s constant refrain as his show collapses around him. His production is cursed, it would appear, but we are blessed to witness this virtuoso display of slapstick and high camp.
Phil Eddolls’s design evokes the Victorian period, and is gloriously ‘inept’ – in one scene, characters are required to enter and exit via a door in the ‘fireplace’. We have no hope of suspending our disbelief for a second.
It takes great skill to be as ‘bad’ as this and the vigour and charm of the cast keeps the joke from wearing thin. The surprises keep coming in this breathless romp through the story. It’s an unadulterated pleasure to wallow in silliness for a couple of hours in these troubling times. If the show has a message, perhaps it’s that theatre should be entertaining and life should be enjoyed – because there are bad things out there and always will be. This is fun you can sink your teeth into.