As part of my role, I am responsible for the Ambassador programme that we run in conjunction with Touring Consortium Theatre Company; the Ambassadors are volunteers who promote the production, as well as working at the performances to greet people, answer questions, and collect feedback.
With the help of the theatrecloud website, we are able to access information about the rehearsal process, see production photos, and read interviews with the cast and crew. As part of the scheme, the Ambassadors and I have the opportunity to watch the production at a prior venue on the tour, in this case Nottingham Theatre Royal. All that we had seen for ‘Dracula’ online convinced us that this was going to be something special.
Our journey began early on a bright, autumnal morning, as our stalwart band began the journey not by the traditional sinister coach and horses, but a comfy large minibus. We began to discuss the extremely evocative trailer for the production. Some professed themselves to not being horror “fans”, whilst others were intrigued to see how the novel had been adapted.
Roger Richardson (Company Manager) gave us a tour of the set, a tall, brooding collection of arches and pillars; there were various arcane pieces of equipment that we tried not to stumble over, as well as noticing interesting things hidden away. All our questions were met with a mysterious “You’ll see during the show” – the cast and crew are forbidden to reveal the secrets of the production’s incredible illusions and visual effects!
From the unseasonably warm sunshine of our journey we were taken into a brooding, dark, rainswept world that was home to lurking horror as Dracula swept through Transylvania and Whitby. The supernatural world of the production has been created by illusionist Ben Hart, a real-life Jonathan Creek, who has even taught magic to Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf himself!). To write about them at greater length would spoil the surprises and scares in store for you, but suffice it to say that there are some truly spectacular sequences. Sleight-of-hand is also used in the production for some of the smaller but no less gruesome effects; again, we don’t want to give too much away!
There are jump scares aplenty as well as scenes of more creeping horror and sudden violence– all the boxes are ticked (coffins are filled?) Throughout the production the charming, malicious presence of Dracula (Glen Fox) can be felt. This is a Dracula who can be elegant, stately and gentlemanly, but also savage, athletic and raging. Talking to Glen afterwards, he confirmed that it is hard work but also great fun, a sentiment echoed by the rest of the cast.
The forces of good, led by the eccentric, driven Dr Van Helsing (Philip Bretherton) fight to save their lady friends Lucy Westenra (Jessica Webber) and Mina Murray (Olivia Swann) from the descent into carnality and murderous desire that Dracula inspires. Through their physicality and vocal performances both effectively portray the conflicting nature of their societal repression and the new sensations that they experience under his influence. Andrew Horton as Jonathan Harker plays the comic horror sequences in Dracula’s banqueting hall beautifully, making us laugh nervously without making the scenes ridiculous. Evan Milton’s Dr Seward is sent on a fantastic journey from the rational to the irrational and he makes us feel for him as his world becomes stranger than he ever knew.
On the side of darkness, Dracula’s vixens (Charlotte Gosling, Benedict Smith, Marina Stoimenova, and Ellen Verenieks) were an unsettling presence even at times when we thought we would be safe from the Count. Their bestial nature and predatory movements added an element of visceral horror to the proceedings, as they started to invade Whitby. Lady Renfield (Cheryl Campbell) has a gift of a role, alternating between aristocratic hauteur and child-like simpering, as well as being unexpectedly moving on occasions.
Dracula is a visual feast and a thrilling story; we thoroughly enjoyed it, and meeting the Count himself afterwards was an added bonus for some of our group! I believe the word ‘dishy’ was used at one point. Not something one usually associates with the undead…