Like the lead character in the novel first published in 1897, over one hundred and twenty years later Count Dracula refuses to lay down and die, endlessly reinvented for new productions, adaptations and engagements, the latest being the Touring Consortium Theatre Company’s Dracula currently engaged across nine cities between late September and early December.
Adapted by Jenny King and directed by Eduard Lewis, it is on the face of it a largely faithful if necessarily abbreviated version of the key events of the bulk of Bram Stoker’s tale of young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Andrew Horton) who leaves his fiancé Mina Murray (Olivia Swan) to travel to the distant castle of Count Dracula (Glen Fox) in Transylvania to arrange the purchase of an English property.
Holidaying with her close friend Lucy Westenra (Jessica Webber) in the northern coastal town of Whitby, Mina is concerned by the lack of communication from Jonathan, but soon other matters become of greater concern, the storm which brings the ship Demeter, the deaths in the town attributed to a monstrous dog seen leaping from the deck as the ship was wrecked, Lucy’s own ailing health, and the growing restlessness of the patients at the asylum run by Lucy’s physician and suitor Doctor Seward (Evan Milton).
With sets, lighting and sound designed by Sean Cavanagh, Ben Cracknell and Paul Ewing respectively, it is an ambitious interpretation of Dracula, a classic text given a bold makeover for the twenty first century, the smoke-filled stage suspended with modular pillars, windows and gates on aerial tracks allowing swift scene changes while maintaining the illusion of a vast Gothic space.
Frequently dramatically backlit, the silhouettes and shadows thrown out across the audience with characters bearing candles or flickering lamps, the action is punctuated by powerful lightning flashes and intimidating cracks of thunder as the oppressive soundtrack rumbles across the stage, yet there are breaks in the gloom such as the interlude of folk dancing as Jonathan arrives in the Carpathians.
Structurally, many of the changes benefit the production, the early part of Jonathan’s journey told through his erratic letters as Mina would have received them, thus delaying the first appearance of the Count until his arrival in England with the full horror of what transpired abroad revealed later, but despite the opportunity this does not expand the characters of Lucy or Mina beyond the frivolous.
Nor does Dracula justify his attempted grand entrance, Fox performing the role with a ridiculous accent which recalls nothing more than Sesame Street, particularly when his reading of “children of the night” is punctuated with unnecessary laughter, his sneering, animalistic interpretation devoid of seductive charm despite his dominating physical presence.
Seward reduced to a slapstick bumbling fool, it is up to Horton and Swan to carry the drama as the tortured Harker and the caring, tender, Mina, while it is apparent that the roles of Lucy and Professor Van Helsing (Philip Bretherton) have been inspired too broadly by those of from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film adaptation, Webber shamelessly and bloodlessly recreating Sadie Frost’s performance.
In fact, the greatest strength of the production is the most radical change, Cheryl Campbell as the gleefully insane self-styled Lady Renfield, chewing insects, rodents and birds and liable to ingest the scenery with equal delight were it not so sturdy, and it is a shame that her participation in the drama is so limited.
An occasionally spectacular staging which fails to overcome the crucial absence at its heart, any production of Dracula without a suitably mesmerising central performance cannot be more than an interesting diversion, and in the long history of one of the best-known texts of horror literature this production is not one which will enjoy a thrilling afterlife.