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‘The House of Dracula’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

‘The House of Dracula’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 29, 2018

‘The House of Dracula’ by UK playwright, Martin Downing was first performed in 1991 in Leeds. It is the follow-up to Martin’s ‘The House of Frankenstein’, which was produced by Garrick Theatre about 30 years ago.

Downing is a bit of an enigma, as there is nothing to be found about him. Could it be a nom de plume of another famous writer, or someone who does not wish to be known, such as a Judge?

This very cleverly written script has numerous mentions to British institutions and places, which may be lost on some audiences. It has a Benny Hill style chase amongst its numerous genres, which was slick and very well enacted, but I felt did not enhance the story line.

This very well produced, hilarious show can be seen at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street in Guildford each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening at 8.00 until Saturday 15th December.

On Friday 7th December there is a special, extra creepy, midnight show. It is hoped that the audience will join in and come in their most ghastly outfits. All of the youngsters last night had ghoulish makeup and weird witch outfits. The minimum age (mainly for understanding the script, rather than fear) is suggested at about 8 or 9 yrs. There is a matinée on 2nd December at 2.00 pm.

The foyer area has been transformed into a chilling, but impressive green-lit, cobweb covered castle entrance hall.

 

The scene: is an ancient Transylvanian castle around 1850, but shamelessly the chronology went back and forward a couple of centuries with its references, e.g. Tesco’s automatic shop doors and Virgin Airways. Strangely, this quirk worked very well.

The setting – designer, Fred Petersen – was a castle hall. Impressively painted by Celeste and Angelo Lopez, was most realistic, with dark grey stone walls adorned with heraldry, weapons and even a wild boar’s head! There is an old plank style, front door, a curtained exit to the kitchen, a staircase and a rear entrance – four entrances hinting at a farcical romp. Thanks to Morgan Hyde, Roy Phillips and Malcom Brand, the construction was solid and convincing. How often have we seen a limestone wall flapping in the breeze? Sadly too often, but not here. There was a tatty old 3-seat settee, and some rustic chairs. Will the huge poisonous spider have its awful way?

There was a cobweb covered chandelier, and especially for this show, the return of footlights. The four LED strips units were the full length of the stage, giving a hideous green glow to the ghouls.

The programming and operation of the complex lighting, along with the amazingly crisp sound effects (thanks to their new ranks of amplifiers), were designed by Geoff Holt, who was aided by his assistant, Carlise Kearney. Geoff’s bio-box has a new computer programme that handles all of the sound and lighting cues – even the smoke machine’s operation! This show would normally have taken a couple of techs working in perfect sync with all hands and feet to create the required atmosphere. The most impressive thunder and lightning I have seen in community theatre, accompanied by the chilly sound of the snowstorm outside.

The choice of music was excellent; it ranged from Bach’s threatening cello and organ fugues, to the show’s uplifting ending, Holst Planets Suite.

Edi Boross was tackling her first post as stage manager, and was faced with a large cast, quite a few props, and special effects to contend with – but as with her bio box skills, she proved to be most competent.

As the house lights dim, the voice of Count Dracula requests that mobiles should be switched off.

 

       Inside the castle, the lady of the house, Countess Dracula (Rhiannon Cary) is pacing around, reading her book. She explains, in rhyming couplets, that she and her husband, Count Vlad Dracula (Thomas McCracken) are expecting guests. At first she ignores the knocking at the door, then it creeks open and the upper crust Baron von Frankenstein (Alan Shaw) and his snobbish wife, Baroness Elisabeth (Colleen Bradford) enter. The Frankensteins’ stern servants, Frau Lurker (Karen Woodcock) and her pathetic partner, the humped back Igor (Ray Egan) over whom she has total control, carries out her every wish.

       The front door swings open, and in come some of the Frankensteins’ arch enemies, Werewolf Harry, (William Darlington) and his attractive, but dim, whinging wife, Isabel (Lucia Mitchell) dressed in a stunning 1920’s flapper girl outfit. They are unaware of the disfigured retainers moving around them. A Zombie, Groat (Steve Moloney) staggers off with their suitcases, whilst Ethel (Fiona Forster) the vampire, clutching a plate of sweetmeats, looks on from afar.

       A banging on the door announces the arrival of a schizophrenic doctor (James Nailen), who is Mr Hyde one moment and Dr Jekyll the next. Ka-Seet (Doryan Kurtovic) was threatening as the ‘human toilet roll’, and a final burst of shock from a macabre Creature (Kathleen Nyland). Who will survive?

Thanks to the backstage helpers, the eerie atmosphere could not have been creepier. Without exception, every character was perfectly portrayed. Director Fred Petersen had the cast word perfect, not a single stammer. Their interaction both verbally and in body reaction was amazing. Quite a few newcomers, but you would never guess from the acting.

The whole show was tongue in cheek, with a fair portion of deliberate ‘ham’ in the performances.

The German Frau Lurker (great diction and accent) was a sadistic maniac one minute, and a bondage Mistress the next. There were several other parts required foreign accents. I had to check the programme to find if Dracula (Thomas) was born in Eastern Europe, and then James as the doctor (who came out of 30 yrs. of retirement in mothballs) managed an extremely accurate Edinburgh dialect and seconds later, a perfect Cockney accent. Well done Fiona (Ethel) as a rough menacing Cockney. William’s Werewolf’s growling rasping accent was excellent. Truly, the cast worked as a well-oiled team. Many of the cast just went ‘fearlessly’ for their demanding parts, with the randy Baroness (Colleen) and Frau (Karen) in her kinky corset.

The magnificent gowns, and costumes in general, were the result of Grainne Friel, Celeste Lopez, and Kathleen Nyland’s hard work. Often the men’s costumes are given little thought, but the Baron and Dracula’s clothing were immaculate. Even poor Groat’s costume brought a wry smile.

Everyone can be really proud. Great fun, with tension, excitement and a wild script. You can clearly see the huge amount of thought and work that has gone into all aspects of this production. Congratulations.