Ben Hart

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

30/10/18

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.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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Edinburgh Fringe Magic Gala

 

15/08/18

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Debating Hall, Edinburgh

Ah, magic! With the weather in Edinburgh taking a sudden nosedive and the threat of Fringe fatigue constantly hovering in the background, a bit of magic is surely going to help matters – and what better way to sample it than this handy package, which offers visitors a taste of five different acts every day at 4.30pm?

Our host for the event is Elliot Bibby, voted Scottish Comedy Magician of the Year 2017. You can easily see why he won the title. He has a nice line in engaging patter (particularly in his interplay with a truculent audience member) and is very good at the old sleight of hand stuff. He takes the truculent one’s ten pound note, turns it into a worthless scrap of paper and hands it back to him. (Don’t worry, after a bit of persuasion, he changes it back again!)

The first guest is Tomas McCabe, who calls himself a mind reader. He brings a young woman up from the crowd and invites her to slam the flat of her hand down on a series of paper cups, one of which we are assured has a deadly metal spike hidden in it. To give the lady her due, she manages this without turning a hair, but most of the audience is holding its collective breath.

Next up is Polly Hoops, who  – as her name might suggest – does things with hula hoops (not the edible variety). She’s soon striding around the stage whirling several plastic hoops from various parts of her anatomy. It’s incredibly skilful and must takes hours of practice, but, I can’t help feeling, it isn’t really magic. ‘More like highly evolved PE,’ whispers Susan, and I have to agree with her.

Tom Crosbie is very quick to point out that he isn’t a magician either, just a full blown nerd. Mind you, what this man can do with a Rubik’s cube is nobody’s business and it certainly looks pretty magical. At one point he manages to ‘solve’ a cube while it’s in mid air. He assures us that anybody can do this provided they put in the requisite study time, which in my case would be 24 hours a day for the rest of my life.

The final act is Ben Hart and, happily, there’s no doubting this young man’s abilities in the abracadabra stakes. He performs an astonishing routine with a pack of cards, that keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller – until he’s able to blow them away in a puff of dust. He then borrows three rings from three members of the public and somehow manages to fuse them together. We have good seats near the front and I watch him like a hawk, but… no, no idea how he did that. Astonishing stuff.

All of these acts can be seen in their own shows elsewhere on the Fringe and, let’s face it, we all need a little more magic in our lives.

4 stars

Philip Caveney