King's Theatre Edinburgh (venue)
30 October 2018 (released)
31 October 2018
This new and re-imagined adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous Victorian chiller most certainly has some unique ideas to offer – not to mention some pretty nifty stage trickery and set designs - though sadly, some of the performances lack the necessary bite.
Luckily, the story’s main villain – ‘Count Dracula’ – is both terrifying and entertaining in equal measure and is played with relish by Glen Fox (who even manages a reasonably convincing Transylvanian accent).
Other characters, foremost Jessica Webber as ‘Lucy Westenra’ and Olivia Swann as heroine ‘Mina Harker’, are somewhat less impressive. For starters, both Webber and Swann (who gave her stage debut at last night’s premiere) simply don’t convince as young Victorian ladies as their approach is far too modern. Above all, their inappropriate diction lets things down badly. This is especially true in the case of Swann (whose character is meant to be a teacher no less!) whose voice lacks the necessary emotional range – indeed, her feisty style of acting would be better suited to an episode of Dr. Who (the Jodie Whittaker incarnation that is) or an open air play on a London council estate than in a refined Victorian household. As for Miss Webber – her transformation from a soon-to-be married Lucy Westenra to one of Dracula’s possessed victims should be terrifying, traumatic and sensual but instead the famous words “Come to me… I want to kiss you” are uttered not only too hurriedly but lack any kind of seductive danger. Please note: squealing like a piglet and trying to outdo Sadie Frost in the film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is bound to be doomed for god knows, La Frost was dreadful enough! At least here Olivia Swann throws a more convincing performance during her ‘transformation scene’… being more like Lisa Bonet in the voodoo sequence of Angel Heart – and Bonet was great in that scene!
As for the male of the species: Evan Milton’s ‘Dr.Seward’ is more bumbling English gentleman than authoritative Doctor while Andrew Horton’s ‘Jonathan Harker’ gets it halfway right though of course he simply looks too young to carry the gravitas of someone entrusted with travelling to Transylvania to strike a business deal with the Count. Philip Bretherton as ‘Professor Van Helsing’ makes for a believable and traditional vampire hunter complete with accent while the true revelation of this production is seasoned actress Cheryl Campbell as ‘Lady Renfield’ – yes you read that correctly! A mad old bat in an insane asylum, this former flame of Count Dracula still hopes and dreams her master might return to whisk her away. In the meantime she has to make do with eating insects, mice and what have you.
The production sports more unique ideas, for example, Dracula’s three brides have a male companion equally longing for blood and victims… and why not? After all, Dracula himself is known to bite not only the ladies but men too, though perhaps not with sexual intentions as far as the male victims are concerned. The scene in which Lucy is finally put to rest after her un-dead incarnation is besieged by Harker, Van Helsing and Dr. Seward in the graveyard also breaks with tradition, for Lucy’s possessed soul doesn’t find peace after a stake has been hammered through her heart. Instead, her heart is cut out and her throat pierced. Quite what the significance of this strange little ritual is, well, only the director and writer Jenny King know the answer. Another clever twist is that Jonathan Harker appears quite ill and ‘mentally unstable’ early during Act 1 and it is then told/re-enacted in flashback how he came to be in that condition.
A huge round of applause must go to lighting designer Ben Cracknell, designer Sean Cavanagh, music and sound designer Paul Ewing and illusionist Ben Hart whose combined efforts make this a visually outstanding production and lift it from average to original.
Bram Stoker’s DRACULA runs until Sat 3rd of Nov. (www.capitaltheatres.com)