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Review of Dracula at Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Cristinel Hogas as DRACULA
Cristinel Hogas as DRACULA Photograph by Michael Brydon

The power of a vampire to seduce and control their human victims is often known as “glamour”, but it is rare to see a theatre or film production in which the vampire could be described as “glamorous”. In this production, however, the word suits Dracula perfectly. All hair, fur, cheekbones and piercing eyes, Cristinel Hogas’ prince of the blood-suckers sweeps around the stage like a gothic rock-star, overpowering audience and cast alike with a mesmerising combination of charm and menace. His Dracula is glib, facile, mercurial and endearingly chatty; right up until the moment when he sinks his teeth into your neck. It is a refreshingly original take on a character which runs the risk, in this vampire-obsessed age, of becoming repetitively stale or worse, tipping over into parody.

In all other ways, Simon James Collier’s Dracula is a very traditional production, and none the worse for it. Jonathan Harker is credulous and confused, John Seward is stolid and sceptical, Van Helsing is slightly deranged but not as mad as Renfield, busy eating his flies in a corner. A couple of surprisingly comic moments are milked with wonderfully dead-pan expressions by the cast. There is a slightly film-like feel to the play, accentuated by a virtuoso, if occasionally overblown, soundtrack of portentous music and eerie sound effects.

There is even a hair-raising carriage chase, which begins rather comically as the four occupants rattle around inside an invisible brougham but which eventually brings the production to an appropriately tense and bloody climax.

Mitch Howell as VAN HELSING
Mitch Howell as VAN HELSING Photograph by Michael Brydon

The set is effective and creepy, with a gigantic door fulfilling several functions and rocky outcrops for people to leap off, struggle over and crawl under as the scene demands. It is not very convenient for the indoor scenes between Lucy and Mina however, and their scenes are therefore often relegated to a small corner which is not easily visible for the whole audience. This is a shame, as there was some lovely interaction between the two girls which provides a welcome respite from the oppressive horror of the rest of the play. To add to the visibility problems there was some rather over enthusiastic use of a fog machine; though certainly atmospheric, the resultant fug occasionally obliterated the action and settled uncomfortably in the lungs. Nevertheless the overall effect, aided by Michael Edwards’ superb lighting, was wonderfully creepy.

Dracula himself is of course barely present in the second half of the play. Thankfully, the arrival of Van Helsing more than makes up for his absence. It is not just the wonderfully gruesome make up job that keeps your eyes glued to him in horrified fascination; Mitch Howell makes a brilliant character study of the mad professor. Gentle, brutal and frenzied by turns, it is a gripping and moving performance. Grant Leat also makes a very authentic and watchable Renfield, comic but also pitiable in his madness.

There is a lot to fit in to any production of Dracula, particularly one which is supposed to be two hours long. Despite the fact that certain scenes were rattled through at a rate of knots, the play still over-ran quite considerably. Thankfully, the production was so enjoyable and the acting so good that I don’t think anybody minded spending a little more time immersed in the gothic fantasy. Good, blood-curdling stuff on a cold, dark night.

4 stars

Review by Genni Trickett
Dracula from the multi – Peter Brook/ Equity Ensemble Award & Offie -nominated Okai Collier Company

Mitch Howell as VAN HELSING and Connie Jackson as LUCY
Mitch Howell as VAN HELSING and Connie Jackson as LUCY Photograph by Michael Brydon

Based on the original novel by Bram Stoker
Adaptation / Direction / Staging / Producer: Simon James Collier
Movement Direction / Staging / Co Producer: Omar F. Okai
Set & Costume Design: Christina Pomeroy
Lighting Design: Michael Edwards
Sound Design: James Corner

Dracula, Bram Stoker’s enduring horror classic tells the story of newly qualified lawyer Jonathan Harker, who arrives in Transylvania to meet with the mysterious Count Dracula and help him with the purchase of a London home. As a guest in Dracula’s remote and crumbling castle, perched high in the Carpathian Mountains on the borders of Transylvania, Bukovina, and Moldavia, Harker soon discovers a darker side to both his new client and his foreboding castle, resulting in him becoming a prisoner there.

Meanwhile, back in England, a catalogue of unsettling incidents unfolds. A Russian ship is wrecked on the rocks near the Yorkshire village of Whitby, there is no sign of its crew and its Captain is lashed to the helm. Strange puncture marks appear on the neck of a young woman, who is visibly wasting away before the eyes of the three suitors who had all proposed marriage on the same day. An inmate of the local lunatic asylum begins raving about the arrival of his ‘Master’, the ever elusive Count Dracula, who himself begins seducing Harker’s devoted fiancée Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray.

Cristinel Hogas as DRACULA, Josephine Rattigan as MINA and Mark Lawson as JONATHAN HARKER
Cristinel Hogas as DRACULA, Josephine Rattigan as MINA and Mark Lawson as JONATHAN HARKER Photograph by Michael Brydon

Harker escapes from his prison, and after recuperating in Budapest, he joins a determined group of adversaries led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing from Amsterdam in a cross-country chase back to Dracula’s castle where they intend to have a one final show-down with the Count.

Cast:
Ella Garland – Mrs. Evans / Helga
Geoffrey Grant – Dr. Jack Seward
Cristinel Hogas – Count Dracula
Mitch Howell – Van Helsing
Connie Jackson – Lucy
Grant Leat – Renfield
Mark Lawson – Jonathan Harker
Anthony Matteo – Arthur Holmwood
Josephine Rattigan – Mina

Dracula
Tuesday 10th February to Saturday 14th March 2015
(Tues – Sat 7.30pm and Sat Matinee 3.30pm)
http://www.lionandunicorntheatre.com

Friday 13th February 2015

Author

  • Genni Trickett

    Genni is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows. Genni has been passionate about theatre from an early age, performing in various productions throughout school and university. She is currently an enthusiastic member of an amateur dramatic society in South West London. Her favourite thing about living in London is the breath-taking variety of shows and theatrical talent. https://www.facebook.com/genevieve.trickett

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