Adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker
Nottingham Theatre Royal
The flying bat clinched it. Strings clearly showing, it wouldn't have been out of place in a cheap toyshop and it brought howls of laughter from the audience. Dracula's transformation into a nocturnal mammal was the decisive moment: Colin McIntyre's production is a spoof.
The problem with this, the third in the Classic Thriller Season at the Theatre Royal, is that you're not sure until the end of the first half that the cast are playing it for laughs. It was in direct contrast with Liz Lochhead's adaptation which I saw at Derby Playhouse last year, a serious piece of drama full of suspense.
McIntyre's version is pleasing enough despite leaving you with doubts about its intentions. Admittedly there are funny lines in the first half. Maggie Stables gets most of them as Sybil Seward. She gives a delightful portrayal of a dotty old lady who's fond of a drink and is easily impressed.
There are workmanlike performances from Conrad Westermaas (Dr Seward), Jeremy Lloyd Thomas (Van Helsing) and Hannah Smith (Mina), while Andrew Fettes, who's been a revelation this season, is exceptional as the mad Renfield who wants to become Dracula's servant.
The evening starts with thunder, wind and howling wolves. Geoff Gilder's set is bathed in a blood-red glow, lending a decidedly chilling atmosphere.
The real problem lies with Nicholas Briggs' Dracula. He's an accomplished actor but it's difficult to know early on whether he's serious or hamming it up. Looking more like Jim Broadbent than Christopher Lee, Briggs is neither sufficiently frightening nor enigmatic - his face is too kind. He wafts his cape around him without going totally over the top. This adds to confusion about whether you ought to take the play seriously. Eventually the bat comes to the rescue.
I enjoyed the second half because I could take the show at face value. It was a pity that McIntyre didn't drop more hints earlier on. But it's not as if he staked his reputation on this production. And by the end you know you can count on Dracula for a few laughs.
The Classic Thriller Season continues until September 4th
Reviewer: Steve Orme