Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a thrilling tale, rife with intrigue and in-depth examinations of the human psyche. Count Dracula is sharp (in more ways than one); manipulating his naive guest/prisoner John Harker into teaching him how to blend in when he moves to England. Before, during and following his relocation, Dracula exercises terror on those in his path, singling out Harker’s fiancée and her friend as his primary targets in a mind game of mass, and extenuating proportions. The book progresses through the medium of personal diaries, journals and letters between characters. Whilst this method of plot development is by no means lost, it has been reimagined for the stage with many of the descriptive scenes acted out in the present tense.
Armed with a hot water bottle and musings following a visit to the GP in which they expressed concern over my iron levels, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I should have dispensed with my usual (and much cherished) necklace in favour of a string of wild garlic flowers for tonight’s escapades. Maybe the Count already had me under his spell, and it was only a matter of time before my incisors started extending? Isn’t this the dream of every bat-obsessed reluctant ex-goth? (Un)fortunately I appear to have made it out intact, following an exciting evening’s entertainment, and at the very least I didn’t upset other theatre goers with an unnecessary acrid floral stink.
Translating Dracula to the stage without either dispensing with key plot points or giving an impression of rushed action is an incredibly ambitious task, and yet that is exactly what Stephen Briggs has managed to achieve. The play runs at approximately 2 hours 15 minutes, and when compared with an unabridged audio book of 16 hours it is perhaps unsurprising that a little is lost in characterisation and the progression of suspense. However, this is very much an aside, as the STC give the audience so much to be absorbed in. We are welcomed to our first location via the use of a projected screen, then move on through Transylvania to Whitby and London in the same manner, with subtle and yet unmistakable differences in the staging facilitated by clever tweaks to lighting and set dressing. Timings of scene change are therefore favourably minimised.
I can offer nothing but praise for the technological management of the show, which is both complex and fast-paced. There were moments when the lighting, sound and stage effects combined so effectively, whether that be because of the judiciously atmospheric use of smoke, the shining blue window of Dracula’s Castle, or the perfectly silhouetted and instantly recognisable London coppers. Dracula’s presence (whether physical or feared) is frequently signified through inconspicuous thematic music, enhancing the effect the aged nocturnal fiend has on those who are forced to become players in his “life”.
There is a wealth of talent and skill on offer from the Studio Theatre Club; the play maintains faithful adherence to the period in which the book was set, whilst also creating opportunities for a variety of performers without appearing to be out of kilter with societal norms at the time.
Stephen Briggs does not overplay the title role and towers imposingly over those he meets, the scenes with a warm and fumblingly credible Jonathan Harker (Matthew Addis) offer an insight into Dracula’s powers of plausible imitation.
Mina Murray, Harker’s fiancée, appears intelligent and cautiously confident in Elena Wright’s depiction, clearly caring deeply for the sweet and much-loved Lucy Westenra (Francesca Richards) whose mutation into the unscrupulous undead version of her former self is seductively delivered.
Charlie Vicary sports a smart morning coat as Arthur (Lord Godalming), which serves as a heartbreaking premonition of what must become of his beloved. He acts superbly as a part of a hesitant team of vampire hunters with Mina, Van Helsing (Matt Kirk) and the psychiatrist John Seward (Ben Morel-Allen) in particular. Helsing’s prior experience with the undead comes with trepidatious clarity, initially concealing the reality from Seward whose interactions with each of the other characters are uniquely tailored to their differing relationships.
In the lunatic asylum, Jamie Crowther as Renfield is superb; portraying lucidity, inherent and manipulated madness with equal fervour. He is adeptly assisted by Mary Horan as the head nurse and Ross McGookin as the orderly. The supporting cast also do not fail to make their mark; Mike MacDonald offers upbeat aplomb in both the roles of Swales and Bloxham, while Ben Winters and Tom Fenton are particularly arresting as the two London constables. Siobhàn Murphy also shows dauntless versatility by covering three very different roles. Katharine Wiggell is sincere as the hotel keeper, while Lindsay Rolland and Anna Wilson both float unerringly as vampires, with the latter also casting a different dimension as she opens and closes the play.
The Friday night show is already sold out, but as I write there are a few tickets available for the other performances, including a matinée on Saturday the 30th of November. Dracula is the perfect antithesis of the rapidly encroaching saccharine overload that December brings!
“Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things. Listen to them — children of the night. What music they make.” … and what fervent music the Studio Theatre Club have made.