Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Fangs for the memories

Victorian Vampire Hunters: Stefan Austin as Jonathan Harker, Bob Graham as Van Helsing and David Claridge as Arthur Seward


The Nonentities,

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


BRAM Stoker's Dracula, written in 1897, has given us one of the most adaptable villains of literature – Hammer Films turned the count virtually into an industry giving Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing steady employment with Lee as Dracula and Cushing as his nemesis, vampire hunter Dr Van Helsing – that is when he was not Dr Frankenstein in Hammer adaptations of that other great gothic horror novel.

Dracula has held a fascination for film makers for almost a century – 217 films and still going strong at the last count - although Stoker's original novel is often forgotten in endless variations on  the vampire theme.

This adaptation for the stage by Liz Lochhead does not stray too far from Stoker's original but still has a cinematic quality about it, which unfortunately tends to detract rather than enhance.

We are left with an endless series of short scenes separated by a blacked out stage as one set of actors move out, creaking gates open or shut, and a new scene moves in. The result is that momentum never gets time to build and the natural rhythm needed by any production never has a chance to get going.

Only once, in the second act, do the lights fade on one scene and rise on another without interruption, a technique that might have been employed more often for the sake of continuity.

Alex Hyde as Lucy Westerman showing that even when dead, or undead n this case, a girl still has to dress for the ocassion

And while having a tall, deep voiced, imposing and scary Dracula, played with real menace by Andy Barlow, hovering around the neighbourhood at night, turning all the attractive womenfolk into the undead, is hardly going to calm the nerves - a little less angst and hysteria might have made the fear factor a bit more effective.

That being said there was much to admire in a production which was never going to be easy to stage.

Alex Hyde as Lucy and Karen Whittingham as Mina, here sisters while in the novel friends, sparkle as privileged young ladies at the end of the 19th century while Stefan Austin as Mina's fiancée Jonathan Harker and David Claridge as Dr Arthur Seward, who ends up as Lucy's fiancée - merging the two characters or doctor and future husband from the novel - give us the old chums from public school who are set for the big adventure of romance and marriage – that is until work gets in the way.

Harker, a young solicitor, is sent off to negotiate with Count Dracula in his crumbling castle on the edge of Transylvania about his purchase of Carfax Abbey in London, which by pure chance is next to the lunatic asylum where Dr Seward works. How things have changed in house purchase! Solicitors heading off abroad to stay with house purchasers to help them with the paperwork . . .

But back to the plot, Harker is virtually imprisoned and although he is saved from the ravages of the brides of Dracula – another rich seam of film adaptations – by the Count it is only because he needs the young solicitor for his own purposes when he arrives in London.

Meanwhile in the mental hospital we have Renfield, a superb performance from Chris Clarke. Renfield's grasp of reality is loose to say the least as he sings about the old woman who swallowed a fly as he works his gastronomic way up the Ark's passenger list first eating flies then spiders then birds, believing he can absorb their life force.

He has a strange link with Dracula, his master, even though the pair have never met. Renfield's future is somewhat short though once the meeting takes place – which probably saved the asylum cat from a grisly end.

His minders, the at times cruel and unsympathetic Nurse Grice, Joan Wakeman and Nurse Nisbett, Tori Wakeman, are left to lay him out, showing a little feeling, despite the fact his death has interfered with an invite to a wedding knees up.

It is not easy to speak in perfect unison but our sisters of mercy managed it without a flutter.

Stefan Austin with Karen Whittingham as Mina Westerman who is suffering an attack of the vapours, or vampires in this case

As for our other sisters . . . Lucy is turned into a vampire and Mina is well on the way when Bob Graham arrives from Amsterdam as Dr Ven Helsing with his kit of vampire deterrents such as garlic, garlic flowers, crucifixes, stakes (for heart insertion), hammers and consecrated host, or communion wafers to you and me.

Bob gives us a doctor who seems to enjoy his work and the challenge of battling the forces of the undead, yet when the victory is won he shows a surprising tender side, explain that Count Dracula was also a victim – before setting off  Benny Hill style with his hammer and stakes chasing Dracula's now widowed brides - Laurie Pollitt, Sophie Harrison and Harriet Poulton.

There is good support from Fay Stanton as the servant Florrie, Alix Abram as the Maid, Hillary Thomson as Mrs Manners and Hillary Thompson as Dr Goldman as well as Alex Forty as the silent help in the asylum, Drinkwater.

Full marks as well to Keith Higgins and Mike Lawrence and their team for an impressive set designed by director Jen Eglinton with iron gates and railings festooned in what appear to be the huge innards of clocks,  which give a Gothic feel to the asylum, Carfax, Dracula's Castle and even Whitby.

Two ramps and a central dais help to separate Whitby scenes from London helping to create three stages separated by lighting and indeed the locations and even moods were helped by clever lighting from David Wakeman, Neil Radford and John Batchelor although perhaps thunder and lightning, the stock in trade of horror, might have been more effective than a blood red explosion of sky as Arthur treats Lucy to a stake, as you might say.

The director has made an ambitious choice in taking on a difficult and complex script and has achieved a creditable result even if terror never manages to stalk the aisles. To 25-05-13.

Roger Clarke

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate