Dracula: The Bloody Truth

Le Navet Bete and John Nicholson
Octagon Theatre Bolton and Stephen Joseph Theatre
Octagon Theatre, Bolton

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Dracula: The Bloody Truth Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
Dracula: The Bloody Truth Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
Dracula: The Bloody Truth Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
Dracula: The Bloody Truth Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
Dracula: The Bloody Truth Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
Dracula: The Bloody Truth Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Dracula joins Sherlock Holmes and Jeeves and Wooster as literary characters parodied at Octagon Theatre, Bolton.

Authors Le Navet Bete (Al Dunn, Nick Bunt and Matt Freeman) and John Nicholson borrow a framing device from the stage version of The Woman in Black: a non-theatrical protagonist using theatrical methods to tell his story. Van Helsing (Chris Hannon) is aggrieved public awareness of the legend of Count Dracula comes from the novel by Bram Stoker. Van Helsing believes the novel was inaccurate and employs actors to help him stage what he regards as the true version of the story. However, Van Helsing has little patience for the behaviour of actors and, in any case, the troupe he has employed are more than a little accident-prone.

Helen Coyston’s set which greets the audience upon entry helps set the mood for a Victorian melodrama: a music hall style stage, complete with red curtain and footlights. It looks impressively solid but disintegrates wonderfully upon cue, crashing down around the cast.

Despite the framing sequence, few of the jokes and criticism in the spoof are inspired by Stoker’s novel or the vampire myth. There is the well-worn observation that Lucy Westenra is bumped off as punishment for entertaining more than one suitor and so failing to adhere to Victorian morality. Likewise, it is hardly radical to point out the sexist treatment of Mina Harker, left passively behind while the men hunt down the vampire. The reluctance to tackle the extremes of the vampire myth (the sexual element barely gets mentioned) seems like a missed opportunity.

If Dracula: The Bloody Truth has taken inspiration from anything, it is not Stoker’s novel but theatrical farces like Noises Off or The Play That Goes Wrong. The bulk of the gags are based upon things going wrong on-stage and the cast soldiering on, hoping no-one in the audience has noticed.

There are only four actors in the cast who take multiple roles, leading to umpteen examples of delays while costumes are changed. Lines are spoken out of sequence or by the wrong character. Props fall apart or become lethal objects. Unwary audience members are sprayed by ‘blood’. Many jokes are based upon Van Helsing’s increasing intolerance of the theatrical flourishes of the cast he has employed.

It is very funny but, although the plot follows Stoker’s novel, there is a sense of stuffing in jokes regardless of context. Jonathan Harker joins Dracula’s brides in a bump and grind routine to "Don’t Cha" by The Pussycat Dolls. In the second act, an audience member is conscripted to take on the role of an incapacitated actor. When the play reaches a conclusion, complete with a closing song, it is repeated (again with song and dance) from a different viewpoint.

The four cast members (Chris Hannon, Annie Kirkman, Alyce Liburd and Killian Macardle) are exceptional physical comedians—a fully laden tea tray is caught in mid-air, and there are endless pratfalls. The cast can certainly play the room. The play opens with them in character wandering through the theatre chatting with the audience. The trick is not to make eye contact.

Dracula: The Bloody Truth is a show going through an identity crisis. It is an affectionate tribute to theatre rather than the vampire genre, performed by a committed and highly skilled cast.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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