It’s Hammer time! We got the billowing red curtains, we got the creepy music, the creaky old theatre and the dank alleyways behind Angas Street where you parked your car. We got a cold Friday night dry-icing your spine before you even entered.
We got lightning and thunder. We got lighting by Wheeler. We got Renfield the lunatic, a tumbling ball of insanity spewing the contents of his re-fried brain into cut-up verse – an extraordinarily physical performance by Matt Houston stealing his every scene. We got your virgin (the beautiful Lani Gerbi), your foolhardy and fooled fiance, we got The Count, caps intended. The virgin goes bad, the boyfriend goes mad, and The Count goes, well, way too Hammer Horror for my liking. Been there…
With all this establishment, the real plot takes a while to get going. Cut to the castle! The program notes are copious to the point of including recipes from the era. Curiously, however, they omit running time or mention of an interval, after which Van Helsing, he of the garlic and the cross, and of Drac’s wily ways, appears, stake in a suitcase, to put an end to all this madness. He’s played by Brian Knott, a passionate performer with a passing resemblance to Dr Scott from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
This production by the Adelaide Repertory Theatre is not without its laughs – mostly in the right places, but occasionally underscoring the arch nature of the writing, an adaptation in need of a trim by Scottish playwright Liz Lochhead.
I can’t take anything away from the actors. God knows it’s not easy to go nuts or nude, or to simulate masturbation, much less even be heard in the Arts Theatre on less-than-award wages, but I feel director Kerrin White could have done them all a favour by being more inventive with the staging of some of the longer scenes.
Personally, I prefer to see philosophical, confrontational or exposition dialogue, if needed at all, spilt over action – two people talking over a table is better film than theatre these days. With a jam-packed, underused, madhouse continuously in the background, it must have been tempting to dispense with the semi-realistic sets and visually pull to the fore the contrasts Stoker was hinting at: war, and madness, religion and superstition. But I could be wrong.
Who knows how a bigger audience (or one less known to the players) may have dealt with this straight-up interpretation – accents, cape and all. Perhaps we owe it to the noble cast and director to find out.
The Adelaide Repertory Theatre’s production of Dracula is playing at the Arts Theatre until April 12.