Based on the book by Bram Stoker; book, music and lyrics by Alex Loveless
The Okai Collier Company, the White Bear Theatre and Fallen Angel Theatre Company
White Bear Theatre

production photo

This new musical seems to closely follow Bram Stoker's original story of the Transylvanian vampire and his defeat, though it omits some characters and incidents in abbreviating it to fit within the show's two and a quarter hours span. At times it utilises Stoker's own devices of letters and journal entries, delivered by their writers or their recipients, to tell parts of the story. This is effective in this chamber-scale production, where a cast of twelve can seem a crowd on stage, and they, like so much else, are delivered at a cracking pace. However, you do need to hear them and sometimes the cast, especially in recitative and when these epistolary passages are spoken over music, seem to be in a battle with the musical director Neil Macdonald's keyboard, and with one performer in particular the keyboard always won.

Fortunately the music is atmospheric and delightfully melodic. Alex Loveless has the knack of writing tunes that sound at the same time both fresh and familiar and, though I did not come out humming any of them, in 'I Am Great Atilla' there is a fine number in which Leigh Jones's strong, fine-voiced Dracula recounts his descent from the conquering Hun and 'A Kiss Can Last Forever' is a lyrical love duet when Dracula is ensnaring Annabel King's Mina.

Loveless is sinister without being grotesque. Though bent-backed when first encountered at Castle Dracula, when rejuvenated she obviously finds him much more intriguing than her husband Jonathan Harker, whom Duncan Wigman makes a very proper and unerotic English gentleman. Joanna Hickman's Lucy is also a nice young gal, with a brief but dangerous vicious moment when she bares her teeth in her vampire transformation. (When not on stage she also, if I'm not mistaken, swells the orchestration playing the cello.)

Professor Helsing, the vampire expert who guides the others in tracking down Dracula, is confidently played by Oliver Hume, complete with the slightly fractured English that Stoker gave him, but a less dominant figure than in some movie versions. These vampire hunters are much more of a team and so is this cast, though each has their moment, including Richard Warrick's fly-eating lunatic Renfield, whose strange behaviour is brought forward to open this adaptation, which also has a slightly altered ending to allow Dracula a final number. Exactly how he is finally dispatched I cannot tell you: not because I want to keep you in suspense, for I can't believe there could be anyone in the audience who doesn't know that he will finally be defeated, but because who strikes the final blow was invisible too me - I had chosen one of the two or three seats from which it was entirely masked by a downstage actor. The only time my sightlines were bad, but a crucial one!

This flaw apart, it is smoothly directed by Chris Loveless against a simple setting by Justin Arienti that suggests both ghostly woodland and unsettling pillared interior. It doesn't indulge in overblown histrionics or aim at spectacular effects but gets on with the story and flows rapidly from scene to scene. The pace, driven by the music, is sometimes in danger of being too fast to register all the information being delivered in the text but there are no longeurs! Some of the credit for that perhaps belongs to movement director Omar Okai who has managed to utilise the whole cast in this space for a full-scale fight between the gypsies accompanying Dracula's carriage and the vampire hunters without endangering any of the audience.

This is a most appropriate entertainment for Halloween and the lengthening evenings for anyone who takes their horror lightly but wants to see it being treated seriously. It won't give you bad dreams.

Until 23rd November 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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