Liz Lochhead
Lyric Theatre Drama Studio
Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Kevin Canavan's Count (right) meets his end in Lyric Drama Studio's Dracula Credit: Neil Harrison
Dylan Breen as Renfield in Dracula Credit: Neil Harrison
Holly Demaine as Lucy in Dracula Credit: Neil Harrison
Matt Heywood as Van Helsing in Dracula Credit: Neil Harrison
Sophie McGibbon (Mina) and Steven Cooke (Harker) in Dracula Credit: Neil Harrison

Liz Lochhead’s classic stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula proved an apt choice for the Lyric Theatre, Belfast’s first production before a live audience in 16 months.

Originally planned for June last year but cancelled by the venue’s closure in response to the COVID pandemic, Dracula’s delayed arrival on its main stage saw the Lyric return from its own prolonged period of suspended animation (no less surreal than Stoker’s iconic tale of the undead) in a stylish staging by Philip Crawford featuring members of the theatre’s Drama Studio.

Established by the theatre’s founder Mary O’Malley, the Studio has long served as a vital resource for local 18- to 25-year-old actors in the absence of any full-time, professional training provision in the region. None of its annual productions can have been made under such difficult circumstances: COVID restrictions obliging a protracted six-month rehearsal period initially conducted via Zoom.

What results greatly benefits from that prolonged exploration of the dark, nocturnal atmospheres of Stoker’s genre-defining masterpiece with Crawford’s sense of time and place acutely realised, and deftly inked in by Stuart Marshall’s forbidding set, James C McFetridge’s crepuscular lighting and Gillian Lennox’s cleverly authentic costumes.

It was there, too, in the idiomatically clipped vocal delivery and straight-backed deportment of a young and committed cast although Crawford’s stress on the repressed surface of Victorian manners contributes to a slow-paced evening in which moments of true horror were few and far between.

Laced with a svelte Transylvanian burr, menace disguised behind good manners and scarlet-lined cape, Kevin Canavan’s Dracula was a suave, aristocratic presence that one wishes had spent less time, literally, in the shadows.

Matt Heyward imbued his crucifix-wielding nemesis Van Helsing with a satisfyingly solid robustness while Dylan Breen brought a tightly wound derangement to his imprisoned disciple, the gibberish-spouting, sparrow-eating madman Renfield.

Filtered through a decidedly Freudian lens, Lochhead’s intriguing focus on sister siblings Mina and Lucy produced a startling transformation from excitable young innocence to sexualised demonic possession in Holly Demaine’s Lucy, Sophie McGibbon’s prim and precise Mina following a more decorous descent into devilish intoxication.

If the straight backs and stiff upper lips of Steven Cooke’s Harker and Will Jordan’s Seward never quite loosened enough to suggest true terror, Jordan’s physically distorted death was memorably dispatched.

Sorcha Ní Cheallaigh’s Lancastrian maid Florrie provided welcome comic relief and telling commentary throughout and there was strong support elsewhere in a production of occasional longueurs lacking just that extra bite to really sink its teeth into you.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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