Reviewed by Revelly Robinson
A hauntingly good production that firmly places Shake & Stir Theatre Co as one of the best in the country.
From the very first crack of thunder that announces Dracula’s terrifying entrance on the stage, the audience is in for a spine tingling treat. Dracula ticks all the boxes of drama, action and sexual tension to make this show a Hollywood blockbuster of the theatre. Despite being a relatively young company, Shake & Stir Theatre Co has shown that it has carved out a niche in delivering popular stories as crowd-pleasing entertainment to suit the tastes of seasoned and novice theatre goers. The latest achievement is no exception with the translation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel offering more than enough suspense, thrills and excitement to keep the audience well and truly glued to their seats.
Following the events of the original story, the play opens with lawyer Jonathan Harker entering Castle Dracula in Transylvania where he has been sent to assist with the Count’s legal affairs. He becomes an unwillingly hostage in the eerie abode for over a month, as his ancient host prepares to disperse his sepulchral earth to Carfax Abbey in London. As Dracula eventually sets sail for London, Jonathan is left to fend for himself against the nosferatu vixens that continue to suck his blood each night. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina, is left to pine for him in London, where she is disturbed by the strange behaviour of her friend Lucy. With Lucy’s condition steadily worsening as she falls increasingly under Dracula’s spell, Mina enlists the help of Lucy’s former flame Jack Steward, a psychiatric doctor. Confounded by the bizarre symptoms of Lucy’s disease, Jack calls in Professor Van Helsing to assist with Lucy’s treatment. Confronted with the unbelievable, Jack becomes convinced of what they are dealing with and realises that he must trust Van Helsing in determining how to stop it.
The ingenious rotating stage with a simple spiral staircase design by Josh McIntosh was an effective mechanism to convey the shifting locations between Eastern Europe and England. The impressiveness of the set design becomes apparent during the close-cutting fight scenes choreographed by Nigel Poulton where the tight stage nonetheless allows a tense combat with Dracula to ensue. The atmospherics of the show are highlighted brilliantly by Jason Glenwright whose lighting brings out the spookiness of the events to great effect. Coupled with a well-timed smoke machine the mist and shadows are enough to make anyone look nervously behind their shoulder. However, the spookiness of the production would not be the same without the creepy composition of Guy Webster. From the very first crack of thunder, the sound accompaniment for Dracula delivers that extra chill factor to make the whole experience even more compelling.
Oscillating between the macabre and whimsicality, while managing to avoid making the often parodied subject matter appear farcical, the direction of Michael Futcher perfectly pitches the drama in a way that complements each of the characters. With a solid script adaptation by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij, which follows the diarised narration style of the novel, the drama moves evenly along culminating in the ultimate showdown at Castle Dracula. There, Nick Skubij’s creation of Dracula really unleashes its full ferocity as the previously demure Count goes to battle against the three men while attempting to win the heart of Mina.
Strong performances by all cast members bring the chemistry of the story together. Although a bit too earnest as Jonathan, Michael Wahr is utterly believable as the hapless solicitor. Despite being in a slightly less dashing role than his last display as Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights, Ross Balbuziente’s studious portrayal of Jack complements the doctor who just wants to do good. Nelle Lee is captivating as the devout Mina, battling within herself to ward off the lure of Dracula. The transformation of both Lee and Adele Querol, who plays Lucy, is stunning as both actors use their physical prowess to lurch into seizures and seductively taunt the male characters. In roles that demonstrate incredible depth and range, David Whitney appears firstly as the psychotic Renfield, a patient of Jack’s and slave to the Dracula, and later as the commanding Van Helsing. There is such a difference in the portrayals that it is hard to believe both roles are played by the same actor. The actors are all brought to life with the apt costume design of Leigh Buchanan. Donning the characters in gorgeously textured period pieces adds to the mystique of the old world, while Dracula’s switch to a leather jacket shows his transcendence through time.
Running at 100 minutes with no interval, Dracula does not have a boring minute. Its tightly condensed script stays true to the main events of the plot without dwelling on ancillary material. While there is the potential for the dialogue to seem a little cheesy, this is avoided through the delivery of solid performances. With enough blood and gore to make any stomach churn, Dracula will delight fans of gothic horror and make everyone yearn for Shake & Stir’s eternal life.
Performed at the Canberra Playhouse during 26 to 29 April 2017, for more info visit http://shakeandstir.com.au/dracula/