Saturday, October 24, 2009


CTW at the Old Court


Bram Stoker was keen to see his vampire saga on the stage. Not an easy task – the letters, diaries and newspaper cuttings that make up the narrative do not lend themselves to dramatic impact.

John Godber and Jane Thornton's version, done for Hull Truck in the mid-nineties, was intended as a small-scale, unscary reworking.

Danny Segeth and Dean Hempstead, in their ambitious production, used a cast of thousands and effective lighting and sound, and did not stint on the gasps and screams.

Much of the narration was in the hands of Jonathan Harker, a natural, engaging performance from Harry Sabbarton, who was also impressively haggard and haunted in Act II. The Count himself, a riveting, sinister Kevin Stemp, grows younger and more vigorous, until his final, violent demise [somewhat of an anticlimax here]. This was a confident, charismatic Dracula, complete with creepy accent. “I have dined,” he drawled, and the tiny gesture as he wiped the corner of his mouth spoke volumes.

His Dutch adversary, van Helsing, was the equally charismatic Mike Gordon, though his performance was one of several areas which could usefully have been much tighter.

Kat Tokley and Rebecca Errington were both impressive as the love interest – well spoken and elegantly dressed. Rebecca's Lucy went effortlessly from virgin to vampish vampire bride. And there were more erotic frissons from Kelly McGibney as a seductive succubus.

The other stand-out in the large cast was Steve Holding's zoophagous lunatic Renfield, a brilliantly sustained physical performance.

A great strength of this production was the use of the stage – a kind of gauze light box at the back became the castle walls, the lunatic asylum and so on. Time and again, the grouping, the stage picture, made a real impact: the letter scene, say, or the warning. Sometimes, though, we could imagine the concept, see the vision, even if the technical constraints prevented it from being fully realised. For instance, the offstage voices, effective though they were, would have been so much more so with amplification and echo added.

Jim Hutchon's review:

This was a very long play full of good, imaginative ideas and a sinister minimal set, which went some way to countering a surprisingly leaden-footed script from John Godber and Jane Thornton. Director Danny Segeth mixed in a series of effective tableaux, and there were some super scary moments. The revealing of Dracula in his casket brought goose-pimples, and unnerving screams from Rebecca Errington as Lucy helped the atmosphere no end. Supporting this was an evocative sound-scheme with occasional howls and manic laughter over an almost film-like music background.
The eponymous anti-hero was played by Kevin Stemp who stole the show with a beautifully balanced juxtaposition of menace and parody. The two ‘decent types’ bewildered by his plans were Harry Sabbarton as Harker and Nicholas Milenkovic as Holmwood. Incarcerated in the English asylum was Steve Holding as Renfield, who added convincingly to his well-established portfolio of manics, and head of the asylum was Joe Kennedy as Dr. Seward, who ably kept up the pretence that he understood what was going on.
A programme note told us that Mike Gordon had only recently come to the play, and read much of his part from the script, which was a pity, as acting the part is key to the resolution of the play, and rather damaged the narrative drive. Although she had no words to remember, a special mention goes to Kelly McGibney as the salacious vampire who embodied everything we expected to see in a production of Dracula.
There is a second run of this play on 28th -31st October.

* The role of van Helsing will be played for the rest of the run by Dean Hempstead.

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