REVIEW: DRACULA (The London Library)  ★★
February 11, 2019  //  By:   //  Plays, Reviews  //  Comments are off

For the first time since its founding in 1841 The London Library uses its reading rooms for the staging of a play. The choice of Bram Stoker’s enduring horror tale is a fitting one because a recent discovery of particular books on the library shelves, matched with Stoker’s Notes on Dracula, proves pretty conclusively that the author used these actual volumes to research the tale in this very place.

So, on paper, bringing an adaptation of the story back to where it was born, should make for an evocative piece of staging. I say on paper, because while the library’s reading rooms are an atmospheric setting, they were never meant for performance and the restrictions of the space end up hampering the production rather than enhancing it.

The work is produced by Oxford-based Creation Theatre, a company famous for and well practised in site-specific productions, and is adapted by Kate Kerrow who has written the piece for just two actors, not a wholly successful move because you can’t help feeling that this wasn’t purely an artistic decision but one imposed on the production by the size of the available performance area. As a result, some characters, including dead friend Lucy and most notably the blood-thirsty count himself, only manifest themselves via the use of recorded voices and some very effective video design by Eva Auster.

We join the story where Mina Harker is undergoing therapy because her marriage to Jonathan is coming under increasing strain as he suffers in the wake of his encounter in Romania with the evil Dracula. Mina’s plight is made worse because this follows the sudden and mysterious death of her friend Lucy. We then move back and forth at an often frantic pace to learn of how Harker’s meeting with the count came about and the subsequent horrors.

Now, if you’ve come to see Dracula in a library, then it’s very likely that you are familiar with Stoker’s tale. If not, then this production isn’t going to help and you’d be forgiven for wondering what on earth is going on most of the time, such is the confusing switching back and forth between characters, time and location.

The two actors, Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert, work their socks of, with Greenham in particular showing just the right level of emotional intensity and a nice touch in comedy when required. But they are both hampered by a confusing script that turns the narrative on its head and Helen Tennison’s clumsy direction that relies too heavily on another loud bang and cranking up the volume on the music to add drama.

The video (I couldn’t help feeling that I’d quite like to see that film) and sound design add a few nice touches —but oh goodness, that animated bat. Ultimately though the problem with this Dracula is that it’s just not scary. There is no feeling of ominous dread that being at the mercy of a vampire should bring, and when the repressed sexuality in the tale is finally unleashed it just feels embarrassing and inept.

Reviewed by Tony Peters
Photo: Richard Budd

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