Photos – Dylan Evans
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one of the first fictionalised accounts of the monster that is the ‘vampire’, and it is certainly Stoker’s book that is responsible for the most widely accepted mythology of the monster – the stake to the heart, the sleeping at night, the abhorrence to garlic and the crucifix, the ability to shapeshift and call upon the other creatures of the night; the list goes on. Since its original release in 1897 the vampire has changed, new mythologies have been created. So how do you recreate the original, without falling into cliché but without betraying the classic?
This was the challenge facing shake & stir theatre co. in their new production of Dracula. The company have a reputation for clever and appealing adaptations of classic texts, including Animal Farm, 1984 and 2014’s Wuthering Heights.
The adaptation itself is a huge task – for a book made up entirely of letters and other forms of correspondence, what do you choose to show or tell? The two adaptors, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij, have taken on a mammoth task, but still told a thrilling version. The first half hour feels as though it drags in places, but by the end time this is forgotten and the audience were all gripped in the story.
The ensemble was made up of five actors, and with only five, there were a few characters from the original story that were economically slashed – however if I wasn’t familiar with the original text, I wouldn’t have minded or really noticed (although I would have been interested in a shake & stir interpretation of Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris would be like).
The ensemble of Dracula were strong, with no particular actor standing out (although David Whitney’s Van Helsing and Renfield provided some wonderful comic relief). The play lends itself to an ensemble cast, and the magic of the play in part came down to the fact that no actor, and no character, was wasted.
Tim Dashwood’s Jonathan Harker was a gorgeously polite gentleman, out of his depth and overwhelmed by the situation he found himself in. Ross Balbuziente as Jack Steward was the more courageous of the leading characters, and without giving too much away, it was his journey that stood out in this adaptation. Nick Skubij was delicious as Dracula – mysterious and seductive, with an impressive physicalisation of the character. Nelle Lee as Mina and Ashlee Lollback as Lucy were a joy to watch, never falling into the trap that other Dracula productions offered, of simply playing the damsel in distress.
The choreography and movement in Dracula was what took the production to a gasp-inducing level, and it’s no wonder with international Fight Choreographer Nigel Poulton at the helm, assisted by Justin Palazzo-Orr. Josh McIntosh’s revolving set design successfully transported us from Transylvania to England to high cliffs and low basements; with the flexibility the design offered, it seems the scenes could have been played more in parallel with each other, especially in the first half of the play. Leigh Buchanan’s costumes were gorgeous and all at once captured the history of the world and the gothic universe Stoker describes in his book. In particular his Count Dracula designs wonderfully highlighted the fractured timeline that the title character must live in contrast to the other mortals he may encounter.
shake & stir’s Dracula is a thrilling adventure that drags you in to its dark world and doesn’t let go until the final bolt of lightning strikes. It’s such a wonderful experience to hear people gasping in fright and jumping out their chairs. If you can get tickets, be sure to indulge yourself and your friends.
I do encourage every-one to go out, see this production, make up your own mind and tell others what you thought.
shake & stir theatre co. and QPAC Present
by Bram Stoker | created & adapted by shake & stir
Directed by Michael Futcher
Venue: The Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Dates: 13 August – 5 September, 2015
Tickets: $34 – $59