PUBLISHED: 16:22 13 May 2011 | UPDATED: 17:04 13 May 2011
"The dead travel fast" is a quotation from Bram Stoker's Dracula. It featured as the poster strapline for the Bob Hope Theatre's visually impressive production last week, as well as being repeated like a leitmotif throughout the show, writes Mark Campbell.
This 1995 adaption was by Jane Thornton and John Godber. It cut to the chase pretty quickly, introducing the bloodthirsty Count right at the start and condensing events and excising characters for the sake of clarity. The book’s clumsy plot contrivances can be made to seem almost elegant by giving the narrative a more disciplined form, as here.
Mark Slaughter’s staging was bold and dynamic. Spotlights blazed down through swirling mist and a huge wooden cross hung centre stage in front of a black backdrop. This was a production in which aesthetic considerations were obviously high on the director’s agenda.
Music and sound effects were integral to the Grand Guignol mood. Molly Parsons-Gurr’s live cello playing added real class while the various sounds – thunder, wolves, tolling bells etc – were expertly cued in by James Priddle.
Compared to all this, the actors’ inputs sometimes appeared secondary. Robert Coble was a slightly underwhelming Dracula (although this may have stemmed partly from the writing) while the hero of the piece, solicitor Jonathan Harker, was never quite brought to life fully by Alex Arden. Nigel Taylor was good but occasionally stiff as the eccentric Van Helsing. Mike Weaver was a robust Arthur, and Andrew Hogarth a sinister Dr Seward.
The female characters came across more successfully. Sophie Targeist was a strong Mina, heroine and romantic interest to Jonathan, although her American accent was out of place in an otherwise Anglicised cast. Similarly good was Grace Blackman as her friend Lucy, with Sarah Maxwell excellent in the gender-reversed role of fly-eater Renfield.
Performers stayed on-stage throughout, stepping back into the shadows when they weren’t needed. A troupe of cackling nuns circled the action like vultures, and at the end the main cast all donned straightjackets. I’m not sure why, but it looked good.
If it had a fault, it was that this Dracula took its source material a little too seriously. If the tone had been less insistently portentous, and the melodrama more lightly played, this would have been as easy to enjoy as it was to admire.