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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

DRACULA (article first published : 2005-11-10)

When I heard about Dracula, the play currently running at Kwasuka Theatre, I was inspired to watch it. Being an avid fan of the book, the movies and the associated cultism that has sprung from the Irishman's work, one can't help but be a little interested in how exactly the show is going to run. After all, Dracula is an epic: set in two different countries, in several different houses and with a fairly large cast. So I wanted to see how the whole thing was going to get put down onto stage.

And what a marvellous rendition it is. One never gets a sense of just how simple or how small the set is, and the cast bring life to the selected characters such that there is no time to sit and think: “But where is Quincy Morris?” The use of German Lieder songs is sublime and as a fan of old school horror I was transported back into time to the old Hammer films, and the earlier German films, with all the romance and dastardly over dramatic moments.

In short this play has everything going for it. Witty little bits of the script keep the audience chuckling, whilst the performances of Renfield and Mina keep the focus and maintain the sense of direction. With a set design that is beyond inspired, being at once a country home on the Whitby coast, and at the same time a cold castle in wolf infested forests of Eastern Europe. The costumes are at times simply elegant and at others dramatically dynamic and make a combination with the set of minimalist beauty.

So why then do I feel compelled to urge people to watch this production with caution? If it has so much going for it, then why am I as the average Joe Soap nervous to voice praise and direct friends, colleagues, and all and sundry to swamp the venue? Because of two fundamental issues that leave me shuddering.

There are two classes of performance in this play. Clare Mortimer and Neil Coppen are two shining examples of perhaps the best Durban has to offer. Both bring a subtle presence to the stage, even when Renfield is ranting and raving. When either of them are on stage, the eye is fixed on them. Two other ladies spring to mind: Josette Eales whose command of the two dialects of London is a delight and consistently put on, and Janna Ramos-Violante who has a few moments to really shine. Thomie Holtzhausen, a veteran and someone with whom I've worked with, seems to have difficulty in bringing the absolutely melodramatic lines to have as much impact as they should. Actors have always struggled to get the "This is not over yet!" type of line out. But his performances through the production are dynamic. Belinda Henwood is convincing but must watch her accent in the more dramatic moments. I found her portrayal of Lucy to bring a certain innocence which was refreshing. Michael Gritten has the face and bearing of the Count, but seemed to be swallowing his “vords”. He was however a constant looming shadow, which is difficult to capture so he must be applauded for that.

It is unfortunate then that I must comment so heavily on the other performers. Perhaps if they were in a production of their own, their apparent complete lack of understanding of the production might not be so evident. David Chevers - perhaps through no fault of his own - gives a half-hearted attempt that left myself and the other members of my party feeling that he was not taking the show seriously. This is perhaps a result of working alongside Iain Robinson whom I felt rendered a very flat, uninspired performance. Whilst it is true that the Victorians were stoic and conservative in action and emotion, there is a line. Robinson and Chevers together don't seem to have a real friendship, or even to really like one another on stage.

Is this an insurmountable problem? I don't think so. A little refocus, a little soul searching and I think that the production could become a slick, well polished show that could become a regular event.

I must state this is not an attack on the performers or producers of this production. It is an attempt to offer in some little way a word of encouragement; to help pick up a production that has huge potential, and guide it towards something that is the talk of the town, and a complete theatrical experience, because it has the makings to be one. These are my honest thoughts and words on Dracula - a show with huge potential, provided it can overcome a few minor issues. – Guy Sclanders




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