In a small, dark room on a sparingly set stage, four figures stand frozen, their eyes wide and their mouths stretched into clown-like smiles, their bodies tense and hands splayed in a disturbingly crazed fashion. They stare forcefully out at the audience, their faces painted in striking black and white, giving them gaunt and sharp features. So Dracula begins, an amateur adaptation of the classic gothic tale performed using physical theatre techniques interspersed with heavy dialogue and complete with some questionable Transylvanian accents.
The whole troupe’s commitment to this intense, highly strung portrayal is to be commended, as it makes for lively and gripping drama.
From the very beginning, the ensemble’s dedication to high intensity performance is revealed in a passionate monologue performed by Tom Stocks, who plays both Dr Seward and his psychologically disturbed patient Reinfield in a Jekyll and Hyde-style character combination. This makes for some slightly confusing scenes, but his commitment to his character and his passionately mad vocals show him to be a stand-out performer. At one point, he leant into the audience, his face close to mine, and manically glaring into my eyes asked “Can I smell you?” in a fearfully hysterical tone, taking a long hard sniff in my general direction and then darting back to the stage to continue. Although he often gives off a vibe of Heath Ledger’s Joker and perhaps uses this too often, he is undoubtedly a strong and devoted performer.
The whole troupe’s commitment to this intense, highly strung portrayal is to be commended, as it makes for lively and gripping drama. Unfortunately this is also their downfall. There are no peaks and troughs in their performance; the level of intensity is so high throughout that it becomes less and less effective as the audience quickly tires of hammed up cackles and screams. Ryan Phillips makes a fine Dracula, communicating a powerfully confident and thoroughly evil vampire, but often relies too heavily on intense stares and the Count’s now cliché “ha-ha-ha,” milking each elongated syllable, making moments that could be jarring and disturbing slightly comical, and in the wrong kind of way. Dafydd Laugharne, who plays Van Helsing, too often relied on exaggerated movements and accents that detracted from an otherwise strong performance.
The physical theatre elements of the production were a nice addition, especially between Lucy (played by Jordan-Emma Canavan) and Mina (played by Rachel McGarry). These moments revealed a cast who were well synchronized, adding movement to a performance that had the potential to become quite static. They could have pushed these elements further and more creatively to enhance the storytelling rather than simply adding them on top of the dialogue. Indeed, this show is quite dialogue-heavy and could have been improved with some more sensitive, low-key moments of physical theatre. Overall however, this is a cast with potential.