Evan Milton as Doc Seward, Philip Bretherton as Prof Van Helsing, Glen Fox as Dracula and Andrew Horton as Jonathan Harker with Olivia Swann as Mina in the background. Pictures: Nobby Clarke


Wolverhampton Grand


Bram Stoker’s gothic novel hit the book shops in 1897 and fangs have never been the same since (sorry, couldn’t resist that). It created a fascination with all things vampire which has grown year by year.

What supermarket Halloween display would be complete without a Dracula outfit, fake blood and a pair of blood sucking choppers, and we have had cartoons, such as Count Duckula, Buffy out there slaying them and even seen them interviewed on screen in the shape of Brad Pitt. We even had some sympathy with Gary Oldman’s more noble count in the 1992 film.

For those of us brought up on Hammer Horror, Dracula, or as we know him, Christopher Lee, being killed off by Peter Cushing’s Dr Van Helsing, became the stock in trade of cinema horror from the eponymous original in 1958 until nine films later a truce was reached with The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires in 1974.

It all went to prove you can’t keep a good man down, at least not if he is bad, real big time bad, lives forever, sleeps in a box of Transylvanian earth and has an aversion to garlic, crucifixes and sunlight.

Thus, this production from the Touring Consortium Theatre Company needs little introduction, the audience are vampire savvy, so all that remains is to see if it can give us a few frighteners and shocks between the bites and crosses.

And in that they succeed in a production starting with a bang – literally, which stops the chatter and the sweet rustling in its tracks.

Indeed the real star of the show is the staging, starting with Sean Cavanagh’s gothic set with a forest of stage high pillars moved into position by the cast as windows, walls and prison bars drop from the flies to give us everything from a railway station, full of steam, to the count’s castle,  a lunatic asylum to a Whitby beach as well as lonely crypts, bedrooms and country houses all at the push of a few pillars.

Added to that is Ben Cracknell’s lighting which both sets mood and the often gloomy, Gothic scenes as well as exploding to shock in combination with Paul Ewing’s discordant horror music and sound effects which attack the senses.

drac 2

Jessica Webber as Lucy is smitten by Count Dracula and his teeth to die for . . . quite literally

Throw in some clever illusions from Ben Hart – try to work out how the good count disappears, in flagrante so to speak, from Lucy’s bed for instance – and you have the tools to set nerves a tingling.

The novel is a bit of a sprawl so to translate it all to the stage would have involved the audience in meal breaks and sleeping bags, but Jenny King has been faithful to the original in her cut-down adaptation. Quite a few characters have bit the dust and she has kept the action focussed largely on Whitby to concentrate solely on the battle between the Van Helsing and the Count.

Glen Fox is a rather suave and elegant Dracula, devilishly polite with a nice touch of subdued evil which flares up from time to time and a constant air of the erotic, or plain old lust to you and me, whenever he gets near the women he needs to give him his new life’s blood, and a bit extra on the side, so it seems.

First on the list is Lucy, played with a girlish, innocent air – until Dracula has had his way with her that is – by Jessica Webber. She manages a lovely contrast between sweet Whitby girl Lucy and raving-loony, lust crazed vampirette.

She is being wooed by the rather nervous Doctor Seward, played as a somewhat ineffectual, lovelorn suitor and dedicated medic by Evan Milton. He runs the local mental hospital where we find Lady Renfield who has a penchant for eating flies, and, you will not be surprised, spiders, although she drew the line at birds and cats and so on, restricting herself to just mice on the mammal menu. The sex has been changed from the novel but it is a lovely performance from Cheryl Campbell as a sort of conduit for Dracula, who has been her master for years. She’s mad as a hatter, yet disturbingly sane.

And, when it comes to disturbing, her ladyship is involved in a rebirth scene which had the audience grimacing and wincing, another Hart effect, this time designed to shock.

Meanwhile, back in common or garden horror, we have solicitor Jonathan Harker, played by Andrew Horton, who goes off to Transylvania to deal with a property purchase in England by Dracula, and despite dire warnings in Romanian by peasants who could have come straight from Hammer central casting, he stays at the castle – stupid boy, as Capt Mainwaring might have said.

It is no surprise, having been ravished by Dracula’s house vampires, the sisters in the book, that he returns a shell and ends up in Doc Seward’s mental establishment when he gets home.

The damage has been done though, the Count arrives in England via a shipwreck and sets his teeth on Harker’s fiancée Mina, attempting to recruit her to the dark side. In the confident hands of Olivia Swann, she resists and is instrumental in the destruction of Dracula in a battle won by Professor Van Helsing, Dutch doctor and lawyer and Seward’s teacher, played with commendable intensity by Philip Bretherton.

He is a not a moment to lose, hundred miles an hour vampire hunter, aided by a flask where he can take regular crafty nips, and a burning need to not only kill the Count but avenge his vampire stricken wife who he had had to kill five years earlier – starting his battle against the forces of evil.

The cast of 14 is large for a touring company and the ensemble did a good job as scene shifters, nurses, inmates, vampires, peasants and anyone else in the world around ensuing battle.

There is no sparing of the blood and gore in this production with meals of indeterminate body parts and a nice helping of O negative soup at dinner in Dracula’s castle and a then a heart cut out, blood dripping everywhere, and neck pierced in a tomb to save a soul, not to mention a crucifix through the heart, among the other stab wounds on his blood soaked shirt as the Count gets his comeuppance.

It’s all there and the tension does build, with a script written in that serious, old fashioned turn of phrase Hammer fans will warm to, but to be honest the action is a bit slow at times, not helped by a tendency towards wordiness to explain points of the story and the opening does get a little confusing until we settle down to knowing where we are and who is who,

And if we are being picky, we are treated to a downpour in the final scene which seems a little incongruous, starting for no reason and then ending just as abruptly,.

Perhaps if it were a storm of biblical proportions opening with crashing thunder and blinding lightning as if the elements were bearing witness to the battle of good vs evil it might have worked, but instead we just get a Yorkshire downpour starting and ending for no good reason other than it rains in Whitby – which anyone who has ever stayed there can testify to quite happily.

That being said, the special effects, flashes and deafening noise from snarls, barks and screams to just plain old bangs do not spare the senses, with regular communal gasps and shudders from the audience – and I defy anyone not to jump with the brilliant twist at the end – real jolted out of your skin stuff.

All in all, it pays due homage to Bram Stoker’s novel, has enough shocks, gore and scary bits to satisfy horror fans – and don’t we all enjoy a bit of terror sitting in the safe comfort of a theatre or cinema, but  perhaps, most important of all, it provides an evening of entertainment earning enthusiastic and prolonged applause at the end. To 24-11-18

Roger Clarke


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