Dracula

Bram Stoker
Mark Bruce Company
Salisbury Playhouse

A couple of years or so back I had to have some blood tests at my local hospital. So down into the depths to the blood-collection department.

There was no mistaking it. Enormous paper bats and festoons of plastic cobwebs decorated the waiting room and the cheerful sister in charge had a badge with ‘Dracula’ embroidered in large gilt letters across her tunic. And although one or two grown-ups looked just a bit nervous, the kids were enjoying the joke hugely.

Because isn’t that how we think of Dracula nowadays? Doesn’t he belong with Halloween and ghost stories? We’d be thought of as rather odd if we expressed belief in any of them, surely. And if they are drained of all credibility, what’s happened to the fear?

Oh it’s there all right. On this Friday night at Salisbury Playhouse, we are back in storm-tossed Whitby where Bram Stoker, in 1890, first conceived his original spine-chilling narrative, watching Dracula convey, through a heartbreakingly expressive solo dance, all the frustrations of his tortured soul.

The darkness, the accompanying wind, rolls of thunder, Mark Bruce’s atmospheric music and a good helping of meandering mist, together with the strange gothic structure which forms the backdrop to the action, keep us firmly focused on the scene and fearful of what is to happen next.

The story’s familiar enough. Dracula has travelled to Whitby from his home in Transylvania after Harker, a young lawyer, has gone to the Count’s castle on a matter business. He has been advised by Dracula to keep within the confines of his castle but, being curious, has wandered outside where he’s met by three beautiful twitching and screaming female vampires.

He manages to escape having his blood sucked, however, and by the time he returns to Transylvania with his friends Dr Seward and, particularly, Van Helsing, the vampire expert, there have been many dark deeds committed, fears and emotions aroused and—always the sign of a good drama—we know that, as we leave the theatre, we’re really going to care about the fate of some of these characters, particularly the helpless girls.

This being dance, there is no actual spoken dialogue, so it’s just as well to brush up on the plot before you visit the theatre, but the fact that the programme is printed in white on black and dark blue, and there’s a healthy pair of fangs being displayed on page 2, should help to set the scene.

There are plenty of memorable moments for us to ponder. Those horses, for instance. We really believed in them. And the ghostly dogs. When Dracula arrived in Whitby it was noted that the ship was empty of all passengers and some folk reported seeing a huge hound leap from the boat to the shore. And are those girls in bed or are those white counterpanes really marble tombs?

Then there’s that climactic moment with the red crucifix and the poignant scene where the dancers are scattering ashes.

So have ten committed and talented dancers with some inspired sound and lighting really managed to dispel some of the silliness which, nowadays, seems to accompany celebrations of some of the darkest moments in our cultural history? To take us back to the age of original Gothic horror?

With this Dracula you’d better believe it.

Reviewer: Anne Hill