Reviewed by Ethan Rummel.
I once heard Dracula referred to as 'Bram Stoker’s beaten horse', and the assessment is really quite apt. Since the creation of the famed monster, there have been countless adaptations, portrayals, and amendments made to this cultural icon, many of which are so divergent from the original to as barely resemble it. However, this production of the time-honored classic does much to stay true to its source material, attempting to recapture much of the horror and mystery that had previously escaped due to the cultural ubiquitousness of the subject matter.
In general, the play is quite successful in its attempts to do so. The set is austere, and though it undergoes many changes of scenery throughout the production, it does much to create a pervasive atmosphere that benefits the horrific subject matter on display. The augmentation of the stage with specialist elements - such as flashing lights and and sound effects - is equally satisfying, and is used with enough reserve to render it truly impactful when it needs to be.
Likewise, the performances on stage are compelling. The reserved central characters contrast well with the bestial movements of the vampires. Special commendation is due for Cheryl Campbell’s portrayal of Renfield, who’s crazed antics are undoubtedly a highlight. The primary issues with this play come from the source material, and the associated difficult task anyone faces in rendering the classic for a modern audience. The story in the first half, as in the novel, consists of overlapping time lines and locations, that, though cleverly played out, may be found by some viewers as confusing, particularly if they are not familiar with the source material. Similarly, the later half of the play condenses much of Stoker’s work, cutting out many superlative elements, such as explanations of vampire lore, as the production rightly assumes these to be culturally engrained enough so as not to warrant a rehashing for the audience.
However, some narrative elements during this second act are similarly omitted or glossed over so as to render it a rushed feeling, that, though it corrects the drawn out nature of the novel, may move ahead of some viewers without adequate explanation. Also, as a result of the source material, there persist antiquated themes of female sexual impurity, though these might be forgiven due to their importance to the plot. However, the place where this play most succeeds, is in reviving much of the horror and mystery that has been lost from its titular character. Glen Fox’s turn as Dracula is foreboding, and his bombastic acting, combined well with special effects, makes the vampire terrifying. And for that reason alone, this play is well worth a view, especially in keeping with the spirit of the season - Happy Halloween.
Bram Stoker's Dracula runs at the King's Theatre until Saturday 3rd November 2018.