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DRACULA (article first published : 2005-11-1)

It is said that Transylvania sits on one of the earth's strongest magnetic fields and its people have extra-sensory perceptions. Many believe that vampires abound at certain times of the year. At a period in the 15th century, the governor of Transylvania was a member of the semi-military and religious society, the Order of the Dragon. The Rumanian elite associated the dragon with the Devil and therefore dubbed him “Dracul” (Devil) and when his son, Vlad Tepes was born in 1431, the child became known as the diminutive form, “Dracula” (Son of the Devil).

In 1897, Bram Stoker published a book based on research on Vlad Tepes that he had conducted in libraries in London. The novel has never been out of print from the time it was first published. Thus a fictional vampire character was created that was to stand the test of time.

Since then, Dracula has been a book, a film, a musical and even a ballet. Presented by KickstArt, a dramatic version by award-winning Scots playwright, Liz Lochead, is now running at Kwasuka Theatre, appropriately opening over Halloween.

It is one of the most dramatic and well-presented productions to come to this charming deconsecrated church (how appropriate for the subject matter!) and indeed to the theatre scene in general. Steven Stead’s direction is impeccable. Several of the characters could so easily become hysterical or rant but his sure control keeps them within the realms of credibility. Scenes move swiftly and efficiently and his knowledge of operatic and lieder music is evident in his choice of atmospheric links.

Greg King’s set is excellent with the versatility of its three levels of brickwork and steel stairways allowing for the gentility of the Whitby summer house, the grimness of Bedlam and the gothic oppressiveness of Castle Dracula – carefully enhanced by Michael Broderick’s well-placed lighting. Terrence Bray has kept within the tones of the set and produced fine costume designs that fit the period.

Acting honours for supremely focused and consistently believable performances must surely go to Dracula’s main victims: Neil Coppen as the catalyst Renfield and Belinda Henwood as the disturbed and gentle Lucy. Michael Gritten’s Dracula is powerful and compelling although he has a tendency to swallow his words in emotional scenes.

They are ably supported by Clare Mortimer (a spirited Mina), Iain Robinson (articulate as Dr Seward) and David Chevers (offering a sincere warmth as Jonathan Harker). They are the concerned parties galvanised into action by Dracula’s nemesis, Prof van Helsing (a strong performance by a credibly-aged Thomie Holtzhausen). Janna Ramos-Violante was a sympathetic Florrie - although the accent tended to wander a bit – and Josette Eales was a suitably gravel-voiced Nurse Nisbett. I would also like to commend the stage presence of young Jesse Bauristhene in the role of Lucy’s child victim.

Running for just under two and a half hours with an interval, it is a stimulating piece of theatre. If you miss it, you will lose out on a finely-crafted dramatic experience!

Dracula runs until November 20. Performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 20h00 (Sundays at 18h00). Book at Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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