Red Rope‘s production of Liz Lochhead‘s adaption of Dracula is a worthy, well-timed revival. Directed by Matt Grinter, a well-established figure on the Bristol theatre scene, the production takes place very much on location in Arnos Vale Cemetery, in an imposing stone building which towers darkly over this ideal gothic setting.
Indeed, much about the play itself demonstrates a faithfulness to Stoker‘s vision, which will please established fans of the original. A lot of the dialogue is taken word for word from the text, and the narrative is comprehensively loyal. The themes of patriarchy and sexuality so challengingly portrayed in the novel feel fresh and relevant in the hands of a singularly capable cast, and the gothic setting also does wonders to reinforce the aesthetic. The audience even get the opportunity to move outside to the cemetry itself, the grand backdrop of the initial venue acting effectively as Dracula’s castle. Throw in some exciting illusions from the renowned Peter Clifford (the last of which draws gasps from the crowd), and the effect is everything one could wish for in a Gothic epic, as Dracula screams defiance into the night air.
There is one disadvantage of this dedicated adherence to the source material, namely that it does sometimes feel like a Victorian novel in every sense, including the genre’s legendary attention to detail and extensive exposition – all very well in something you can dip in and out of over a few weeks, but crammed into one night’s performance, it sometimes runs the risk of sucking the life from an otherwise engaging performance. Fortunately, the script, though dying for an edit, is otherwise well-written, and the powerhouse performances from the leading actors are quite the ray of sunlight. Jared Morgan is enthralling as the eponymous Count, bringing to the role an eerily but convincingly beguiling charm, while at the same time maintaining an animal vitality that is completely riveting. Elliot Chapman thoroughly embodies the role of Renfield, Dracula’s insane, twisted disciple, and Rebecca Robson and Simon Riordan give nuanced and moving interpretations of Mina and Jonathon Harker.
There are also a number of mini-spectacles which are executed with originality and proficiency, such as Dracula’s journey to England, in which the table-cloth is used to create an ocean. The distinctly stylised fight scenes and other moments of less naturalistic physical theatre are effective and engaging; had they been a more regular feature, this could potentially remedy the problem they inevitably have with such a dense script. Credit must also be given to the sound designer for the show; the mix of gothic music counterpointing certain key moments and sound effects such as baby cries and the eerie ‘breath’ of Dracula are pivotal to the show’s success.
Liz Lochhead sets out to create a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, and Red Rope’s production does it exemplary justice. The performances are powerful, the setting ideal, and the vision clear and well-executed. It is every inch a consummate adaptation of a Victorian gothic novel, and, for the most part, has the individuality and talent to combat the pitfalls inherent to adapting such writing to the stage. Well worth staking the price of admission. 4/5
Review written by Adam Lanchester.
Dracula is currently showing at Arnos Vale Cemetery until Saturday 21st November. For more information on the production, visit here…