THE HOUSE OF DRACULA
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court Theatre
Last time CTW put Bram Stoker’s Count on stage, it was in the Godber version. This time, they have unaccountably opted for the “comedy thriller” by Martin Downing [uncredited in the glossy programme].
It’s unmemorable writing even by the standards of the genre. Fortunately Iain Holding-Sutton’s production boasts some polished comedy performances.
Dean Hempstead chews the scenery impressively in the title role, with Carrie Ann Shirtcliffe as his poetical spouse Ilona. To their castle come motley couples: Frankenstein and his bride [Terry Cramphorn and Hannah Burton], Frau Brunhilde Lurker, played by the formidable Christine Davidson, with her side-kick Ygor, a deliciously OTT Martin Robinson. And young Americans Isabel, Leanne Young, and wolf-man Harry, Ben Fraser.
Caroline Dunsmuir makes the most of the smaller role of Dracula’s bride. Other Halloween horror guest stars include Callum Prior – both a zombie and an Egyptian mummy amusingly named Ka-Seet – and Dave Hawkes, garnering every possible laugh in his Jekyll and Hyde double act, pursuing his suspiciously thespian prey whilst singing favourite numbers from the halls.
Cultural references range from Ghostbusters to WS Gilbert, who would certainly approve of the potion plot device in Act Two. Some lively screaming and surreal chases, plenty of thunder and clever lighting, but too often characters stand centre stage “spouting outdated rubbish” as someone has it. George Burns? Whist drives? And, while I’m in nit-picking mode, the Braun joke will only work if a] enough people have heard of Ava Gardner and b] Fraulein Braun’s first name is pronounced in German.
The “carefully crafted cobwebs” extend to the imaginatively decorated foyer, and the costumes and the make-up both contribute significantly to the impact of this Halloween hokum.