REVIEW: Dracula (Jack Studio) ★★★

Writer and director Ross McGregor returns to the Jack Studio in Brockley alongside the team from Arrows and Traps Theatre, with a creepy and atmospheric adaptation of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror classic Dracula.

Anyone adapting Dracula is going to be travelling on a well-worn path, and needs to decide if they want to stick closely to the source material or incorporate any of the legends that have built up over the last century. McGregor seems to want to stick to the original in terms of atmosphere and style but has made changes to the story for either pragmatic or artistic purposes. Pragmatic changes include reducing the cast, the three sisters are reduced to two and the American, Quincey Morris, is completely absent, whilst the final chase across Europe in pursuit of Dracula is skipped altogether.

The more interesting changes involved giving Mina (Beatrice Vincent) a much stronger character; making the mad Renfield (Cornelia Baumann) a woman; and most noticeably changing the whole ending to create a new cliff-hanger. These changes are welcome and create interesting dynamics that refresh the well-known story.

The first act is delivered at a frenetic pace, McGregor uses the letters and diary entries the Stoker included in the novel to drive the narrative whilst lighting is used to switch from one scene to the next with two or even three scenes all on stage at the same time to minimalize any time wasted. The climax at the end of the first half is rather spoilt but a noisy and incongruous dance to a moody version of Britney’s Toxic. The second act felt a little rushed, in particular the time given to Van Helsing (Andrew Wickes) so convince the others of the existence of vampires, and the finale was so energetic it was exhausting just to watch.

McGregor is ably supported by his regular collaborators in the cast. Christopher Tester is excellent as the eponymous Dracula, a sinewy and lithe mover who seems to float across the stage at times. His Dracula is a quiet, malevolent shadow until he is finally confronted, when Tester changes to a snarling beast, dismissive of the pathetic humans he sees as inferior. Conor Moss is a youthful Jonathan Harker, and does well to show the character traumatised by his experience in Transylvania. Bauman steals every scene she is in as Renfield, munching her way through the ‘there was an old lady’ rhyme. Wickes’ van Helsing is played subtlety and his matter of fact style gets plenty of laughs amongst the carnage.

The set designer Francine Huin-Wah makes the best use of the small space, creating the sense of a gothic castle, full of shadows and mysterious entrances whilst leaving enough space the cast to move and share the stage. This works because of the excellent work by Ben Jacob’s lighting and atmospheric sound design, Britney Spears aside, by Alistair Lax.

Overall this is a confident production of a classic, within the limitations of a small stage, and is both well-delivered and enjoyable.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington
Photo: Davor Tovarlaza @ the Ocular Creative

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