Blackeyed Theatre is coming to the end of a six month national tour of Dracula; I saw the production yesterday evening at the Greenwich Theatre. This theatre troupe has built a reputation for “creating dynamic theatre using live music and great performances to tell stories with honesty and passion.”
This small company with only 5 actors has taken on the huge task of performing the epic horror story of Dracula, a story that was first penned in the 1870s by Bram Stoker – Stoker was an Irish Novelist, although better known at the time as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. Stoker’s masterpiece has gone on to influence the direction of vampiric literature for over a century. The problem with this is that we all feel like we know the story, we have seen the various films and as an audience member we all have very definite ideas of what our Dracula should be like.
For the purists amongst us, this adaptation may not be dark or Gothic enough, which is a shame.
This adaptation pretty much follows the original text, however, the company have used various theatrical devices to illustrate not only the story as told by Jonathan Harker (Will Bryant) but also the contemporary time in which Stoker lived – London in the 1890s. Blackeyed Theatre use music, tableau, shadow puppetry, song and dance to showcase the social conditions of the era, for example the beginning of act two references the first short moving pictures in Paris: each actor stylistically portraying the moving image rather than delivering the scene in a naturalistic formation. This was excellent, although I am not sure it fits in with my idea of what a production of Dracula should be about.
The company also incorporates live music into the piece, this is played skilfully by all members of the ensemble. Rather than a recorded track of sound effects, we hear the cast recreate the sound of wind, babies crying, storms, and dogs barking, this all adds to the plays atmosphere. The cast also sing excerpts from “Libera Me” , a catholic prayer for the dead, this breaks up the action and also echoes the fear of death that embraces them all
The original story is told in epistolary format, narrated mostly by Jonathan Harker. In this adaptation, this is also the case. Will Bryant executes the role of the quintessentially English newly qualified Lawyer Jonathan Harker perfectly, we see things through his eyes – his experience is “on the edge of an unfamiliar world”! so Harker sees things and experiences things that are not of his world. Personally I feel the Director of the production has taken Harker’s account of Count Dracula too literally and we are given a rather animated Dracula, (Paul Taylor) although Taylor’s performance is genuinely dark and menacing, it is executed through stylised movement enhanced by spindly long fingers and a haunting voice, this of course references the Gothic anti-hero we all know. His execution is done very well, however, I am not sure if this characterisation fits well with the rest of the production. None of the other cast members have full make up.
Within the adaptation there are some scenes of pure brilliance, there are several haunting moments that will make audience members gasp. One of these is Bryant’s portrayal of Renfield. The first time we are introduced to this “life eating maniac” wrapped in chains and hanging from the bars of his cell, we are mesmerised. Personally I felt the scenes featuring Renfield were the most captivating in the whole production; witnessing Renfield eat his flies and spiders was truly horrific! There is also a fabulous moment where Renfield eats a bird and feathers are scattered on the stage, although a horrific scene to watch, the theatricality is beautiful to experience.
All in all this is a satisfying production, it touches on all of Stokers themes, sexual conventions, role of women in Victorian culture (a great scene where Mina ( Rachel Winters) proves that she is not the fairer sex and knows more about the vampire traits that the male escorts she is with), immigration, colonialism/post colonialism, religion and the other world, and of course London Society in the 1870s, the emergence of new medicine, new technology and new ways of treating the mentally ill.
If you are prepared to open your eyes and enjoy the varied performance styles that are given, then the journey you are taken on through this production is great. Also, if you are studying the text at school it is definitely worth going to see as the story of Dracula is well told.
Review by Faye Stockley
The Greenwich Theatre
Tuesday 18th to Saturday 22nd March 2014
Blackeyed Theatre Presents DRACULA Autumn 2013/SPRING 2014
Thursday 20th March 2014