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Dracula
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Tuesday, 16 November 2010

3 starsLondon: Greenwich Playhouse, by Greenwich station
9 November - 5 December.  Tue
Sat 7:30pm (10:15pm); Sun 4:00pm (6:45pm); no performance Mon

The screams of a caged madman open Liz Lochhead’s Dracula – a weighty, wordy and worthy adaptation, which sweeps across seas and continents in pursuit of Bram Stoker’s wide-ranging plot.  Marking its 25th anniversary this year, Lochhead’s script remains one of the truest adaptations of Stoker’s novel.  Spurning Hammer-horror clichés, it’s an epic tale – one filled with love, redemption, heroism and darkness.

But it’s desperately hard to achieve such grandness of vision in a theatre above a pub; and despite the best efforts of a talented cast, I fear this particular production never quite hit its stride.  At times, it achieved that sense of understated menace which works best in a claustrophobic space.  But for the most part, subtlety was crowded out by a full-throttle delivery – which struggled with the confines of the intimate stage, just as surely as the lunatic Renfield strained against his chains.

It’s a shame, since the quieter moments revealed some very fine acting indeed.  Matthew Grace is well-cast as Jonathan, the frightened innocent abroad – while Ellis J Wells’ Arthur offers an interesting interpretation of the late-Victorian doctor, dismissively domineering in professional life but foolishly lovelorn at home.  The whole cast do well to bring out the sexual undertones of Stoker’s tale, contrasting the stifling demands of turn-of-the-century morality with the vampires’ primal urge for blood.  And Kieran Hennigan’s Renfield makes powerfully uncomfortable viewing, even if his madhouse rantings occasionally overwhelmed his fellow performers’ lines.

Also stealing the show – but in an entirely positive way – is Louis J Parker, who delivers a bravura performance as Dracula.  Delivered in Parker’s dripping tones, Lochhead’s sometimes over-lyrical script sounds entirely natural; yet he captures the Count’s timeless anger too.  The effect’s at its strongest when he first meets the vulnerable Jonathan – switching, moment by unpredictable moment, from aristocratic charm to half-animal snarl.   

Clearly then, the problem’s not that Sell A Door Theatre have over-reached their abilities; but they have, perhaps, misjudged the practicalities.  This is an epic play, but they’re working on a tiny stage, and they’ve shied away from the radical pruning needed to bridge that gap.  Both pitch and volume seemed stuck on maximum, and only occasionally – for example, when Dracula travels to England amidst billowing sails – did I get a glimpse of the elegant, tight production I was yearning to see.

Finally though, I have to mention David Ben Shannon’s original score: filled with motifs, yet never repetitive, it was the perfect filmic accompaniment for all this play could one day be.  Ultimately, then, Dracula didn’t quite hold me in its thrall… but there’s a lot of promise in everything I heard and saw.

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About This Author

Richard Stamp

Co-founder of FringeGuru and self-confessed Festival addict, Richard Stamp came to Edinburgh on a six-month assignment and never quite got round to moving back.  In his ten years enjoying theatre in the city, he's been chased by ghosts, abducted by the army and watched Macbeth on a motorbike.  He denies sleeping with a Fringe programme under his pillow.

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