Pros: Faultless casting and special effects lend power to a legendary tale.
Cons: Sight lines became restricted when actors moved to the front of the stage.
Like many pub theatres, the Lion & Unicorn gives no indication of such a well-equipped performance area. The top of a winding staircase presents a room slowly filling with dry ice. Perhaps a cliché, but it sets the scene perfectly for the latest portrayal of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As we took our seats, my mind flipped back to countless film and TV versions of the story. Could the stage reproduce the tension, fear and menace so easily generated on screen? There were no doubts on that score as an excellent lighting and sound system maximised the compact performance area. There was an economic use of props and it was amazing how two hinged doors were used in different scenarios. Just to refresh the memory; Dracula tells the story of a lawyer, Jonathan Harker, who arrives in Transylvania to assist Count Dracula in the purchase of a London home. During his stay, Harker finds his client has a sinister side and soon becomes trapped in Dracula’s castle. Back in England, a Russian ship is wrecked on the Yorkshire coast with no sign of the crew; a young woman, Lucy Westenra begins wasting away as three suitors propose marriage on the same day; Renfield, an inmate at a local asylum speaks of the arrival of his ‘Master’. Dr John Seward enlists the help of Professor Van Helsing with the aim of confronting Dracula. But does Harker escape from the castle; and will the showdown save Harker’s fiancée, Wilhelmina, from Dracula’s clutches?
The story cracks along at a lively pace, and is in no way hindered by limited stage dimensions; Harker’s farewell to his fiancée at the station and arrival in Transylvania has a seamless quality with ingenious sound effects. The audience is naturally carried along with the required dose of imagination. Performances are excellent throughout; the tall, angular Cristenel Hogas drips with charisma in the title role; Grant Leat was convincingly manic as Renfield; Connie Jackson was assured in the role of Lucy Westenra; and Mitch Howell was sound playing Professor Van Helsing, although I continually fought against his likeness to Rowan Atkinson. The idea of Mr Bean playing Van Helsing also brings to mind unintentionally funny moments in the play; for example, when Van Helsing and cohorts were racing to Dracula’s castle, they formed an imaginary carriage driven by horses; flickering lights gave the impression of a silent movie and drew a host of suppressed giggles from the audience.
Overall, the production has achieved the difficult feat of transferring a visually demanding story to the stage. Letters exchanged between characters were read aloud, a useful reminder of the novel’s original format and an effective method of moving the story forward. Any adaptation has to produce a streamlined version whilst retaining the spirit of the story; a task accomplished by cast and creatives with consummate ease.
Author: Bram Stoker
Adapted, Directed and Produced by: Simon James Collier
Box Office: 08444 771 000
Booking link: http://www.lionandunicorntheatre.com/dracula.php
Booking until: 14 March 2015