Liz Lochhead, adapted from Bram Stoker's novel
Theatre by the Lake
Theatre by the Lake

Matthew Vaughan (Count Dracula) Credit: Keith Pattison
Bryn Holding (Arthur Seward) and Jennifer English (Lucy Westerman) Credit: Keith Pattison
Henry Devas (Jonathan Harker) and Matthew Vaughan (Count Dracula) Credit: Keith Pattison

This 1985 adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic gothic novel by current Scots Makar Liz Lochhead, directed by Theatre by the Lake's recently-appointed Associate Director Mary Papadima, sees Matthew Vaughan return to Keswick as the eponymous bloodthirsty Count.

The essential parts of the novel are recognisable from this adaptation. Arthur Seward runs an asylum and one of his patients, Renfield, eats insects and talks of the coming of his master. Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, is involved with the sale of Castle Carfax to foreign nobleman Count Dracula and has to go to see him in Transylvania, but finds it difficult to leave.

There are also a couple of romantic strands to the story, as Jonathan is engaged to Mina and Arthur, an old schoolfriend of Jonathan, falls for her unstable younger sister, Lucy. However the Count has designs on both girls, until Arthur's old tutor, Professor Van Helsing, comes to help.

Unfortunately, these various elements of the plot never really tie up together in any coherent fashion. Dracula himself doesn't appear very much, and when he does it is to do a lot of posturing and arm waving, Van Helsing drifts in late in the day and seems to do very little and Renfield has very little to do with any of the story but has a lot of long speeches from his mobile cell. The final death of Dracula is very scrappy and disappointing.

The play isn't remotely scary or sinister and doesn't even have any of the humour of the original novel. It is also extremely long. The production had already become tedious by the interval, but long before its 10:45 final curtain it had become rather an endurance test for the audience.

None of this can be laid at the feet of a pretty decent cast, all doing their best to make sense of this jumble of a plot. Matthew Vaughan is, it would seem, an ideal choice for Count Dracula, but isn't really given a great deal to do. Henry Devas gives a strong performance as Jonathan Harker, Bryn Holding is great as Arthur Seward, Liam Smith gives another intense and powerful performance as Renfield, Jennifer English is excellent as Lucy and Cate Cammack gives good support as Mina.

Even in a pretty small part, Katie Norris shows class in her portrayal of servant Florrie, however Peter Rylands's Van Helsing doesn't really project this strong character over the footlights.

It's a shame, as everyone in this cast and production team has shown his or her talent elsewhere in this and previous seasons, but this production just doesn't work. The plot is confusing, the set (by Martin Johns) is quite bland and the whole thing lacks the fear and humour of the original, which makes even its 2¾-hour running time seem much longer.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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