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Theatre review: Dracula

Theatre

Australian theatre company shake & stir’s reworking of Dracula is aesthetically impressive, but it lacks the bite expected from Bram Stoker’s gothic horror, writes Bension Siebert.

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As the story opens, English Lawyer Jonathan Harker (Michael Wahr) is sent to Transylvania, to help a certain Count Dracula (Nick Skubij) purchase some property in London.

The naïve Harker soon discovers he is less hired help and more captive servant in Dracula’s castle.

He is held there and eventually handed over to three “diabolic women” – Dracula’s vampiric slaves – who drain his blood nightly.

Finally escaping the fortress, Harker, his physician friend Jack Seward (Ross Balbuziente) and former mentor of the latter Van Helsing (David Whitney) unravel Dracula’s plot to convert the people of Britain into the undead – and decide they must murder him to save humanity.

Harker and Seward each have a one-dimensional, aristocratic beloved –  Lucy (Adele Querol) and Mina (Nelle Lee) – that they must attempt to protect from this menace, while rescuing humanity in general seems a passion exclusive to Van Helsing.

Whitney’s gruff, melodramatic turn, oddly reminiscent of a masculinised Hercule Poirot, is the standout performance, while Skubij is at his strongest in the lead role during his menacing opening dialogue with the lawyer. (Why Balbuziente maintains an Australian accent while the rest of his supposedly English counterparts adopt BBC-standard is unexplained.)

Make-up artist Alex Ouston and costume designer Leigh Buchanan should be congratulated on the Count’s persuasively undead aesthetic.

Indeed, the costumes, lighting and set, squeezed onto the stage at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s intimate Space Theatre, are the most engrossing elements of this production.

Photo: Dylan Evans

A large, sweeping staircase – black, flecked with crimson – with a series of landings, alcoves and archways, fixed to a giant turntable, is frequently used to clever effect, transporting the action from cliff-top, to train, and facilitating an exciting chase scene through the castle.

However, many of the moments that should have provoked terror in the audience instead sparked laughter from some quarters. The fight scenes looked contrived, as did the scenes involving a lot of fake blood and wooden stakes.

The fact that Dracula is the source material for so many clichés doesn’t help, but the company could have made comedy of those clichés or moulded the dialogue to make it believable rather than hackneyed.

Dracula is entertaining enough to maintain interest to the end, but I expected more than that.

Dracula, recommended for ages 15 and up, is playing at the Space Theatre until September 16.

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