DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Darlington Hippodrome

Adapted by Jenny King

Director: Eduard Lewis

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Despite being the most famous monster of all time, as well as possessing frightening power and evil motivations, Count Dracula just isn’t scary anymore. Blame the numerous parodies and appearances in every conceivable medium from cartoons to cereal boxes, but Dracula has lost his bite. With this in mind, the producers of this new stage adaption of the classic Gothic horror novel should be applauded for injecting some scares back into the story and allowing the Count to really bare his fangs once more.

Making good on its promise of being an immersive theatre experience, this production delivers some neat surprises and more than a few heart-stopping shocks. The stars of this show are the creative team who deliver an effectively atmospheric (and at times pretty terrifying) production. Ben Cracknell’s lighting design is superb and brilliantly compliments Sean Cavanagh’s simple but versatile set, while Paul Ewing’s music and sound alternates between slowly drawing and violently jolting the audience into a state of disquiet. Eduard Lewis’s direction is mostly assured and strong, although it is also frustratingly inconsistent with some odd directorial choices that are no doubt exacerbated by Jenny King’s uneven adaption. 

Following the original book’s basic plot but wisely reducing its cast of characters down to the minimum and smartly moving Jonathan Harker’s horrific experience in Transylvania from the beginning to mid-way through by making it a flashback, there is much to admire in this new version. While maintaining the original time period and the main setting of Whitby (and not London as most movie versions do), initially the only major change to the source is the gender swap of Dracula’s asylum inmate familiar, to a female Renfield. The change is initially jarring but this is quickly dispelled thanks to Cheryl Campbell’s excellent performance: chewing scenery as she chews flies. However other detours from Stoker’s text are less successful, particularly during the second act which introduces some melodramatic elements (including some unnecessary twists during the climax) that may have seemed like a good idea on paper but which in practice come across as rather silly. The addition of some misplaced comedy also means that the audience is sometimes unsure whether some moments are intentionally funny.

Standing out in the cast is Jessica Webber as Lucy who expertly handles her transition from flighty young girl to bedridden invalid and on to a sexually charged hissing vampire. Also strong in their roles are Evan Milton as Doctor Seward and Andrew Horton as Jonathan Harker (even if he seems to lose his Yorkshire accent when he escapes Dracula’s castle) and although Glen Fox makes for a physically imposing and at times genuinely frightening Dracula, he doesn’t quite have the charm to make the character completely convincing. Philip Bretherton’s cartoonish Van Helsing seems to have wandered in from a Mel Brooks version of the story, and Olivia Swan’s uptight portrayal of Mina means that the audience only sees that she can actually act when she is eventually transformed into a vampire.

However, for all its weaknesses, this Dracula remains vital and exciting mainly due to the high production values and the thickly applied atmosphere that gives us fog, thunder, lightning, and even a rainstorm. Ben Hart’s effective illusions are also extremely memorable and in an age of over-reliance on technology in theatre, it is wonderful to see that such simple and old-fashioned theatrical tricks can still deliver scares. For these reasons alone, it’s heartily recommended that you get your teeth into this before its too late.

It should be noted that this production relies very heavily on strobe and flashing lights, so epileptics beware.

Runs until 10th November 2018 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

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Uneven, but still bloody good

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