Review: Dracula at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
- Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer
“I screamed like a big, scared girl in Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre. I screamed before even one word was uttered...and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.”
I don’t think I’m of an excessively nervous disposition – I love horror movies; I mean really love them. My childhood friends were the Mummy, Frankenstein’s bolt-necked creation, and all manner of creatures that would slither from the grave on late-night TV when I was supposed to be tucked up in bed. But I actually screamed tonight. I screamed like a big, scared girl in Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre. I screamed before even one word was uttered...and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.
Having recently rewatched Bram Stoker’s Dracula on Netflix, 26 years after getting ‘goffed up’ to see it as Gloucester’s multiplex on St Ann Way (soon to rise from the grave as a flagship Next store), I was all in the mood for a bit of vampire action. I’d read the book as a child and, though the Harker diary format was a bit heavy going for my teenage sensibilities, the story has stayed with me throughout the years...from Christopher Lee crush (oh!), to feelings of pity for Gary Oldman’s tragic, love-sick character (aah).
So, what a treat to have a bold new adaptation come to Gloucestershire – and for us to be lucky enough to experience the world premiere. Yes! Right here, in the shire.
And this really is a bold new adaptation; the stage and lighting design are something to behold. Ingenious use is made of colossal pillars and arches, effortlessly taking us from Whitby portside to Transylvanian castle via lunatic asylum, while clever lighting (hats off to Ben Cracknell) and (at times ear-perforatingly loud) three-dimensional sound effects leave the nerves jangling. And the smart additions of Ben Hart illusions have us all wondering if we can truly believe what we have just seen...injecting a sense of magic and otherworldliness to the proceedings.
The casting has been carefully considered, and of particular note are Jessica Webber’s Lucy and Philip Bretherton’s Professor Van Helsing (who channels a pretty damn fine Anthony Hopkins of the 1992 film version… just the right balance between playfully fey eccentric and bloodsucker-killing genius). Glen Fox’s Count has the right degree of supernatural menace and plays the part with conviction and poise, though I think he would have carried off the part a little better in shabbily-aged aristocratic clothes, slightly frayed at the cuffs, rather than what felt a little like fancy-dress Dracula at times. Though I’m probably being unfair… the Count may be ancient, but his clothes don’t need to be.
It was unfortunate that on the night we went along there was a prolonged technical hitch that brought the show to a close for a good 20 minutes or so in the second half, because the interval was spent on a high, chatting animatedly about what had just passed. Did you see that effect? What was it? Was it just me? Etc, etc. Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because of a change of pace and the mystique of the figure of Dracula being taken from us once he had appeared later on in the first half, the play didn’t seem to have quite such a hold over me.
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Don’t get me wrong; there was still magic – by the spade – and I felt myself on the edge of my seat on more than one occasion: will they remain faithful to the book or will it take an unexpected twist?
That’s not for me to say; I wouldn’t dream of taking away the mystery and magic of Bram Stoker’s timeless tale and the brilliant reimagining by the Touring Consortium Theatre Company. All I will say is, go along to experience it for yourself at the Everyman...enter freely of your own will, and leave some of the happiness you bring.
And don’t forget the garlic.
Dracula is at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre until Saturday, October 6. Visit everymantheatre.org.uk.