‘Dracula’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 8, 2016

‘Dracula’ by Dublin born author, Bram Stoker, is an 1897 classic Gothic, horror novel. In 1890, after learning of the 15th century Romanian Prince, Vlad Tepes the Impaler, Stoker began to study the history of this tyrant who drank his victim’s blood – Dracula, son of the Dragon.

This 1924 stage adaptation by Hamilton Deane was further revised by John L. Balderston in 1927, when he reduced the characters significantly. Theirs was the first adaptation of the novel authorised by Stoker’s widow.

When the play was revived years later, in 1977, the production won Tony Awards for Best Revival, Best Costume Design, nominated for Best Scenic Design and Best Leading Actor in a Play.

The Murdoch Theatre Company’s trilogy of horror presentations, ‘The Gothics’, opens with this 2-hour production of ‘Dracula’. It can be seen at the Nexus Theatre, within Murdoch University (near carpark 3) at 90 South Street, Murdoch.

The performances are at 7.30 each evening until 9th July.

 

Ally Snell has given us one of the best sets I have seen in community or university theatre.

It is 1900 in a cavernous Gothic house in Purley, south London. The scene is a doctor’s home, with patina-coppered walls and arsenic green paintwork. The largest, most sumptuous Chesterfield settee I have seen and various office furniture. There is a massive fireplace, crowned with a family crest embellishment. A pair of patio doors led onto a balcony. A stone staircase climbs to the attic and the arched, neo-Gothic windows.

The numerous, difficult to source, fascinating props of the period were gathered by Andrew David. The Production Managers were Andrew David and Scott McArdle. Stage Manager was Brianna Lea assisted by Justin Crossley and Sean Weislo.

 

     A young man, Renfield (Rhys Hyatt), is waiting in the surgery of psychologist, Dr Seward (Stephen Platt) when three beautiful women in diaphanous black dresses seem to materialise from nowhere – they are the Brides of Dracula (Jess Serio, Christie Strauss, and Jenia Gladziejewski). They feast on his blood and now poor Renfield is one of their family.

     Later, the doctor is discussing with the naïve, nervous fiancé of his daughter Lucy, Jonathan Harker (Philip Hutton), how Lucy (Toni Vernon) has suddenly become very anaemic and is having strange dreams. The men leave the room and the housemaid, Miss Wells (Rhianna Hall) tidies the surgery. The lights flicker, animal noises can be heard from beyond the balcony; a handsome man sweeps into the room; it is the mysterious Transylvanian, Count Dracula (Joel Sammels), who recently bought the house next door.

     Whilst writing at his desk, Dr. Seward is interrupted by his whinging, overworked assistant, Butterworth (Alex McVey) who tends the doctor’s insane patients. Butterworth tells the doctor that poor Renfield has escaped – amazingly – over a 30-feet wall. The doctor is racked with worry, his daughter’s safety is now in doubt, and so Seward decides to call in a Dutch medical specialist in mysterious diseases, Van Helsing (Jason Dohle).

Will this expert be able to help? If so, how? Or is it too late?

 

Scott McArdle’s lighting totally captured the mood, from the warmth of the sitting room with friends, to the chilling, threatening night scenes. Shannen Precious smoothly operated the many tricky, lighting effects.

All too often have we heard a poorly recorded thunderclap that even had needle-dust crackle. Here, Tim Brain’s soundscape team, of Katie Southwell and Luke Gratton, shook the house with their booming, convincing effects. Magnificent work perfectly cued and operated by Tay Broadley. Talented composer, Drew Krapljanov, was once again responsible for the production’s background music. His skill is in his meaningful minimalism; the occasional chord, a few bars on the cello and lower keys of the piano, gave us mellifluous harmony.

The period costumes (Sophie Braham) and demanding makeup (Leah Toyne) were well-researched, giving authenticity to the era. Director John King must be congratulated on creating such a brilliant production. The actors were perfectly rehearsed, filled with depth of character. The drama had all of the vital elements, tension, creepiness, love, beauty and excitement in copious helpings. With such a large stage, Launcelot Ronzan helped supervise the movement and choreography.

The whole cast worked so hard, all giving exceptional performances. The Count was suitably repulsive and creepy, Renfield totally deranged. The voyeuristic, glamourous Brides popped up everywhere, and the ailing Lucy. A little light relief came from Butterworth. All complemented in their own way the powerful performances of the main characters, and the convincing, chilling suspense.

Highly recommended.

Coming soon to this same theatre are the other two play in this Gothic trilogy, ‘The Mummy Rises’ from the 14th – 16th July, and ‘Frankenstein’ on 21st – 23rd July.