Mercury Theatre Colchester and Fitzrovia Productions
Fringe favourites Fitzrovia bring their unique Dracula to the well-appointed 1930s wireless studio on the stage of the Mercury.
It could be argued that the rough edges and the cheap and cheerful approach is part of their charm, but fortunately the enhancements and the extensions work well here: the Count wandering down the aisles, or gliding, then flying, across the stage, the tumescent Bach to open Act Two, Mina warbling The Moon Got In My Eyes, the smoke, the frosted glass.
The golden age of steam radio is lovingly spoofed, of course. We're given a brief tour of the studio – the Foley paraphernalia for the spot effects, the matinée idol, the ingénue, and Mr Mallaburn's impressive organ. At which, as we enter the auditorium, he plays a tasteful selection of tunes – Top Hat, Lilacs – flashing a Pepsodent smile whenever he strikes a bum note.
Jonathan Harker [a debonair Jon Edgley Bond] tells his familiar story, with melodramatic music and of course the noises off: the flower-pot sarcophagus, the magnetic tape forest floor, the rubber glove bat, the matchwood shipwreck. Deliciously deadpan performances all round: Fiona Sheehan a fragile Mina, Dan Starkey in a wayward wig a manic Renfield, as well as the announcer, and Joanna Wake a constantly hilarious pleasure as the forgetful grande dame – somewhere between Dame Sybil and Betty Marsden – playing everything from a sensual succubus to a Cockney paperboy. She alone is allowed the joke teeth, and by heavens does she make the most of them …
David Benson is Alucard,a guest artiste from Romania, whose sinister presence blurs the line between fiction and reality, as innocent necks around Broadcasting House [including the legendary Alvar Liddell] fall victim to his fangs. His timing, his accent are exemplary – the portraits of his “aunt's sisters”, his longing to see Essex's celebrated “airfix hobby”. The horrific dénouement is chillingly effective – you can tell things are getting serious when the protective apron goes on – with messy melons, a quick wipe of the lips with Starkey's toupée, and an impressive elevation to end.
The scripts flutter page by page to the floor, there are silent arguments behind the cut-glass dialogue, thunder, by divine providence, augments the cabbages, balloons and coconut shells on the effects table. Perhaps because of the larger auditorium, or unfamiliarity with the genre, the laughter seems a little more restrained than I would expect; the filth in particular is politely received.
Nonetheless, a warm reception for this masterclass in an increasingly popular format, appositely timed for Halloween and the various Gothic seasons currently on offer.
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews