King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
What better way to commemorate the night before Hallowe’en than with this production, which offers enough blood, mayhem and diabolical carrying-on to satisfy the darkest of appetites? Published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s tale of repressed Victorian sexuality forms one of the cornerstones of Gothic horror fiction, along with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published eighty years earlier in 1818.
Of course, the main difficulty for anyone undertaking Dracula in this day and age is that the story is so familiar to audiences around the world, it is virtually impossible to create any sense of surprise. To give this production its due, it doesn’t really try to do that, offering a fairly close interpretation of Stoker’s original tale – unless, of course, we count the addition of a Lady Renfield (Cheryl Campbell) and a silver bullet trope that appears to have been borrowed from the werewolf tradition, which, the more I think about it, doesn’t really make an awful lot of sense. Plans I might have had to incorporate a ‘fangs ain’t what they used to be’ byline are, I’m afraid, somewhat redundant. Still, I’ve little doubt that Stoker would have approved of this interpretation of his most celebrated story.
Mina Murray (Olivia Swann) bids a fond farewell to her fiancé, solicitor Jonathan Harker (Andrew Horton), as he sets off to Transylvania to organise the impending relocation to Whitby of a certain Count Dracula (Glen Fox). Harker promptly goes missing and, while he’s away, Mina’s friend, Lucy (Jessica Webber), begins to exhibit some rather worrying symptoms. Why is she sleepwalking every night? And what are those peculiar marks on her neck? It’s not until Mina has travelled to Europe to collect an emotionally drained Jonathan that his journal explains what he has been up to – and it is clearly time to call in Professor Van Helsing (Philip Bretherton), who has previous experience of this kind of thing.
If Jenny King’s adaptation sometimes feels a little stilted, it’s Ben Cracknell’s galvanic lighting design that offers us most in the way of surprises, with jolting flashes of light revealing fleeting glimpses of carnage before we are plunged abruptly back into darkness. Illusionist Ben Hart throws in some impressive disappearing tricks, director Eduard Lewis supplies some eerie choreography, and Sean Cavanagh’s clever set design manages to transform the stage of the King’s Theatre into a series of suitably atmospheric locations. It’s an ensemble piece, of course, but Jessica Webber gives a particularly assured portrayal of Lucy, sprightly and coltish in her earlier scenes and horribly transformed later on.
This is a decent, if not exactly transformative production, perfectly suitable for the Hallowe’en season, and with scenes that may unnerve some viewers.