This is the most sensuous production I have ever seen in Stoke; playing on my sight, sound and very soul.
When the New Vic announced it was going to ‘do’ Dracula, eyebrows were raised – mine more than most. But Theresa Heskins has dug deep under the duvet of Bram Stoker’s terrible old tale and washed away the hamming up of all those Hammer Horror movies, to produce a stage play that is fresh, sexy and sometimes almost sympathetic to the old cove. The story might be slight and over-familiar but it’s the way it’s told that is particularly fascinating.
The first thing to report is that the sound effects are remarkable – harking right back to the days of the Home Service. And they are created before our very eyes.
Three high level Victorian laboratories, adorned with test tubes and beakers, loom over the audience; staffed by silently-treading actors surrounded by highly sensitive microphones and the everyday tools of the trade.
When Dracula bites, we hear a fork wiggled into a half peeled orange. When he flies into a window, two leather gloves are flapped together; and no stake through the heart is complete without a dismembered cabbage. Yet the effects are so convincing, there is a great temptation to turn to watch them being created when what is happening on stage really requires one’s full attention.
Especially the aerial ballet.
Huge black banners of silk hang from the theatre rigging and Dracula’s three un-dead brides writhe seductively in and around them…suspended between heaven and earth. It’s beautiful to watch – and chilling to hear when they drop to the floor to devour a newborn child to the sound of amplified salivating. Later, young Dracula uses red silks to swoop bat-like onto his victim’s bed. This collaboration between the New Vic and aerialist Vicki Amedume of ‘Upswing’ is a defining moment in the theatre’s life.
Jack Klaff is suitably sinister and powerful as the old Count; creeping, at times laboriously, around the stage saying very little in a dark, heavy accent and generating a highly charged atmosphere.
So I was glad of the girls. Jasmine Blackborow and newcomer Sarah Schoenbeck came on all bouncy and beautiful, like schoolgirls planning a midnight feast in the dorm. Both actresses handled their forlorn fates very well….as they slid, hypnotised, from resistance to entrancement. The struggle to save Mina, and the image of her pleading for a holy death, still haunts me.
The production is bold and brave; uncompromising and uncomfortable. The design is stylishly, yet sparingly, gothic and the overwhelming blackness of it all creeps into your bones. The actors are spell binding and the technicalities immaculate – though even the alchemists in the lighting box couldn’t quite rid Dracula of his shadow
I don’t suppose this show it will suit all tastes…but what it will do – importantly – is draw new people into the New Vic, and welcome film buffs back to the art form of theatre.
They may be challenged … but they will not be disappointed.