Review: Dracula

by Lynn on August 23, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written by Bram Stoker
Adapted for the stage by Liz Lochhead
Directed by Eda Holmes
Designed by Michael Gianfrancesco
Lighting by Alan Brodie
Projections by Cameron Davis
Original music and sound by John Gzowski
Cast: Wade Bogert-O’Brien
Martin Happer
Rebecca Gibian
Cameron Grant
Marci T. House
Allan Louis
Marla McLean,
Natasha Mumba
Moya O’Connell
Chick Reid
Cherissa Richards
Ben Saunders
Graeme Somerville
Steven Sutcliffe

A shimmering production with a compelling performance from Allan Louis as Dracula overcomes the over-written plodding adaptation by Liz Lochhead.

The Story. It’s based on the Bram Stoker novel of 1897. And is about a seductive vampire named Dracula who needs human blood to live. He gets it by sucking the neck of his victims who in turn are turned into vampires. He must be stopped and only one person can do it. Will he suckseed? (sorry).

It’s a fascinating story and has been adapted into other plays and films and Broadway productions.

The Production. I think Director Eda Holmes’ production is dandy. She is hampered by Liz Lochhead’s overwritten adaptation. It’s full of poetic illusions (Lochhead is a poet besides a playwright) and philosophical ramblings, when what is needed is a clear, focused script. Eda Holmes makes up for it with a production that shimmers and creates anticipation that just gets more and more heightened.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s spare design, Alan Brodie’s dark and brooding lighting and John Gzowski’s compelling, often spooky sound and music keep us gripping the arm rests.

Cameron Davis’ rippling, undulating projections create a sense of unease, that something is bubbling up, ready to over boil.

We hear about Dracula from so many references long before he appears that all the work is done before he arrives. We can hardly wait to see him. And finally he’s there seemingly to appear in a cloud of smoke. It’s not a magic trick. It’s more an illusion. It plays on his quiet way of moving, appearing and disappearing.

Everybody has their idea of what Dracula should act like and look like. To some he looks like Bella Lugosi in the old movies, with an overdone accent and black hair etc. To some he looks and sounds like the purry voiced, seductive Frank Langella who played it on Broadway years ago.

We bring our preconceptions and assumptions to any production of Dracula and I think that’s a mistake. If the performance of the actor playing Dracula is not what we expect, then we tend to criticize it, discount it. A performance should be taken on its own.

So how is Allan Louis as Dracula? He’s terrific. I am struck by how courtly his Dracula is. He’s over-polite to both men and woman, almost self-deprecating, and people find that seductive. He’s from ‘away’ in Europe somewhere and to a British person, (and Canadians, I would guess) his formal way of speaking would intrigue people about him. His clothes are well tailored, but his long fitted coat adds to his exoticism.

Mr. Louis is graceful, commanding, imposing and attractive in a way that makes people give over to him because they can’t resist his charms, or eventually his incisors.

The rest of the strong cast is wonderful to a person. Marla McLean as Mina Westerman is a forthright woman about to be married to a bit of a prig named Jonathan Harker –well played by Ben Sanders–but then she comes under the spell of Dracula and the change is marked. Graeme Somerville plays Renfield, a mentally challenged man, locked up for his own protection and others. He eats flies and other insects. He intuits that Dracula is coming. Somerville is crazed, agile as he flips inside his cage and eerily compelling.

I have to mention Steven Sutcliffe as Van Helsing, the doctor who knows how to kill Dracula. Sutcliffe is impassioned and full of conviction and urgency in the seriousness of it all. I found him as arresting as Allan Louis as Dracula.

Comment. Dracula is a romp that is played seriously and not for laughs. But leave all your assumptions of what he looks and acts like, outside.

Produced by The Shaw Festival

Began: July 8, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 14, 2017.
Cast: 14; 7 men, 7, women.
Running Time: 3 hours.

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