Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, October 2018
I suspect that more than 120 years since Bram Stoker wrote his most famous novel, the author would be amazed at the hold Dracula still has on the general public, and that much was evident on the opening night of this production at Hull New Theatre.
The Count has become one of the most iconic figures in film and literature, with countless depictions over the years as Stoker’s slow-burner gradually started to gain greater notoriety. The difficulty with such a famous, or maybe infamous, story and villain, is adding something new to the huge canon of work that has come before. Thankfully, the Touring Consortium Theatre Company have managed just that.
“Intense and eerie”
The promise ahead of the show was of a “completely re-imagined multi-sensory stage adaptation… with breathtaking illusions and spine-chilling effects”, and it’s fair to say that was delivered. Without giving too much away, the evening starts with a bang. A big bang. And throughout the show the use of innovative lighting and effects demonstrates a great imagination and feel for the story, but in many ways the highlight is in what you hear, as much as in what you see. Aurally this is a real treat, creating an intense and eerie atmosphere, while also injecting just enough ear-piercing sound effects to keep you on edge.
Where I was most surprised though, is that while there are plenty of imaginative and modern ideas, at its heart this is an extremely faithful adaptation of Stoker’s text. There are lengthy passages of dialogue to move the story along and a depth of character development that I didn’t expect, with all of the lead roles in the book brought to the stage.
“Towering physical performance”
Cheryl Campbell plays Lady Renfield in the major character change from the book, changing gender, but remaining Dracula’s ally in the Whitby asylum that sees him drawn away from his castle in Transylvania. Fellow TV and stage veteran Philip Bretherton is a dead ringer for Anthony Hopkins in his role as Dracula’s nemesis and vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing, but the acting honours have to go to Glen Fox as the Count himself.
In all honesty, while Dracula is evil personified, he has developed over the years into a somewhat camp character that therefore makes it harder for him to instil genuine fear into the viewer or reader. Any adaptation will inevitably pale in comparison to that of Christopher Lee and the iconic Hammer films, but Fox treads a fine line quite magnificently to make his Dracula a menacing presence whenever he’s on stage (which incidentally isn’t nearly often enough for my liking). His towering physical performance is also one of surprising agility, not to mention his penchant for skulking in the shadows and appearing as if out of nowhere on more than one occasion.
The highest praise I can give to any adaptation of a classic is that it will appeal to those wanting it to stay faithful to the original and those wanting something new. This Dracula does just that.