From a rehearsal room at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre there are strange noises emerging – a mix of laughter, screams and what sounds like cabbages being squashed. In the first of two interviews taking a peak at The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula, Dan Starkey talks to The Public Reviews’ Glen Pearce about bringing Bram Stoker’s classic to the stage.
How are rehearsals going?
They are going very well, we are in the penultimate week of rehearsal before we start doing it on the big stage but it’s looking good. We’re tweaking various bits, but all the main stuff for the show is there and we’re finessing all the minute details.
How does this production of Dracula differ from a traditional staging?
The idea is that the radio drama company of the BBC in 1937 are doing an adaptation of Dracula. So they have a studio audience watching the recording while the nation is listening on wireless sets at home. It’s the usual radio company (the Fitzrovia Radio Hour company) who have a guest artiste visiting them, a Romanian character actor, and over the course of the production it seems he’s rather more suited to the rôle than any of them were expecting. There’s two levels of story going on – there’s the actual radio play which the audience are listening to at home and then there’s the story that the studio audience (the people in the actual theatre) are watching
You’re playing Van Helsing in this but it’s not the first timeyou’veplayed him
We developed the script in various iterations and we did a version of the script last year to try and bash out the Dracula story, to work out how to tell it most efficiently and in the Fitzrovia style. I always play Mr Starkey who is a 1930s radio actor who looks like me but it is Mr Starkey giving his Van Helsing.
How do you ensure there is a balance between the drama and the comedy?
Its having an understanding of what the style of the period is. Fitzrovia as a company started off using old American steam radio scripts which we found on the intranet. They were almost like a rehearsed reading in a bar on a fringe basis. You can do a lot through dialogue and sound and that sort of thing but we got a feel for the style of the scripts, which are slightly creaky it’s fair to say. We’re quite faithful to Bram Stoker’s story though there are a couple of tweaks we’ve made to make to make it flow a little more easily. It’s quite a long novel and the show is considerably shorter than it would be if it was a complete adaptation but it takes the bones of the story and transposes them into the radio context.
One thing that is evident watching Fitzrovia shows is the sheer fun the cast have. Is it hard not to make each other laugh?
There’s always a bit of organised chaos with us! To create the sound effects for example we’re punching cabbages or doing unspeakable things to watermelons and it can get very messy and chaotic. Our rehearsal time is rough and ready and so we’re always finding things out live in front of an audience when we come to do it. This show, however, is very different, it’s very much more designed, we’re in a full theatre and we have a set and everything. It takes the Fitzrovia DNA that we’ve had with previous shows and it’s almost like transposing it to a wide-screen high definition version of it. We’re telling the Dracula story in quite a straight way and then the chaos is due to external factors that I won’t go into…
What’s your particular favourite horror film?
One of the first ones I saw when I was 9 or 10 was Dracula Prince of Darkenss and I think that because I was quite young then I was just proud of watching a horror film. We had Christmas one year at my cousins who were a couple of years older than me and they showed me Poltergeist 2 on Christmas Eve and I was so terrified I couldn’t sleep all night and I haven’t watched it since.
Audiences perhaps now know you best for your rôle in Doctor Who – is it a nice to appear from behind the make up?
TV and theatre are very different but it’s certainly a plus not having to sit in a chair for 2-3 hours at the start of the day or getting up at 4 in the morning! It’s nice that people know me as Strax but because I’m glued into a rather extreme prosthetic appliance I still have my anonymity walking around town.
So are you ever spotted by Doctor Who fans out of costumer?
Occasionally the very die-hard fans do. It’s got to be specific places where die-hard fans are likely to congregate but it has only happened a couple of times.
When Peter Capaldi decides he’s had enough of playing the Doctor and they start looking for a replacement any desire to take up the sonic screwdriver?
Oh that would be alight, I’d definitely consider it if it was offered! I was there on Peter’s first couple of weeks and it was interesting to seeing how he was adjusting to being the new doctor. It’s one thing intellectually knowing I am the new doctor who and then there’s the reality of it actually hitting you, which you can only go so far mentally preparing yourself for. I think he’s done extremely well.
In our second interview from the Dracula rehearsal room we will be talking to Cal McCrystal, the show’s director.
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester from 30 October to 15 November.
For more information visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk
Rehearsal Photo: Robert Day