BWW REVIEW: Bloody And Brilliant, Shake & Stir Theatre Co Deliver A Thrillingly Dark And Mysterious DRACULA
Saturday 1st April 2017, 8pm, Riverside Theatre Parramatta
Bram Stoker's Late Victorian Gothic Horror novel comes to life in Shake and Stir's terrifyingly wonderful adaptation of DRACULA. The spine chilling story of blood lust and aspirations for power and population plays out in a fabulously balanced blend of period drama, contemporary interpretation and a subtle dose of humour with the quality of a main stage season run even though the production will tour all Australian States and Territories, visiting 44 cities and towns.
Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij have adapted Bram Stoker's well known novel for a new generation, presenting a dark and mysterious 105 minute performance that remains true to the original story. Director Michael Futcher has worked with Set Designer Josh McIntosh to present a work that smoothly transitions back and forth between England and Transylvania with moving sets, creeping fog, Guy Webster's ominous Sound Design and new compositions and Jason Glenwright's suspense filled Lighting Design. The multilayered set allows the chaos and madness to be expressed with movement and a multitude of pathways. Futcher and McIntosh have created dedicted spaces connected to certain locations to enable the audience to have set reference points for Dracula's castle, Doctor Jack Seward's offices, Renfield's cell in the Lunatic Asylum and Lucy's bedroom whilst including enough dialogue and inference to define the other various locations from train stations and coach carriages to the cliffs of Whitby and the ill-fated Demeter that runs aground on the shores below. Leigh Buchanan further helps to set the work in the late 1800's with corseted dresses and three piece suits whilst allowing some creative licence for Dracula's change from oppressive capes suited to the European climate and culture to a younger guise for his transition to a more progressive England with a somewhat contemporary black leather on leather ensemble and close crop of his once flowing blonde locks
Michael Wahr captures the fresh faced young English solicitor Jonathan Harker, sent to deliver settlement papers to the mysterious Count Dracula. He presents the English formality and manners with a developing awareness of the gravity of his situation. He conveys Jonathan's fear for his situation and his love and devotion to his fiancé mina with an honesty and integrity. As Jonathan's fiancé Mina, Nelle Lee presents an equally wonderful performance, presenting a maturity to provide a contrast to her flightier friend Lucy. She presents Mina's fear with a subtleness of a stoic English woman told to be strong and have faith that her missing lover is safe despite her worries, that were later discovered to be completely justified.
Adele Querol captures that more capricious Lucy who has opted for a relationship with someone that can offer her wealth and title over her long time love Jack Seward who is merely a doctor in a mental asylum. Querol delivers a captivatingly physical performance as the victim of an, at the time, unknown malady which draws sympathy and shock. Ross Balbuziente takes the role of Doctor Jack Seward, Lucy's jilted lover and part of the small team of Vampire hunters that comes from Jack's friend Professor Van Helsing's enlightenment of what is unfolding. Balbuziente presents Jack's multitude of emotions from his tormented brooding at the loss of Lucy, the bewildered dealings with the crazed patient Renfield, and the love that he still harbours when he sees Lucy in pain.
David Whitney doubles as the insane Renfield and the vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing. As Renfield he presents a grotesque but somewhat comic character as the madman obsessed with obtaining the life force out of insects and small animals who also provides a forewarning of the terror Dracula intends to unleash on England. As Professor Van Helsing he delivers a different type of obsession as the doctor who determines that Lucy's illness is not explained by medicine but rather the legendary Nosferatu that feast on blood, infecting their prey to create new monsters. Lee and Skubij have given the Professor the bulk of the comic relief and Whitney delivers the quips with a certainty and seriousness to balance the levity of the statements that has the audience doing a double take at the lines.
As Dracula, Nick Skubij gives the mysterious Count a sinister but well-mannered darkness alluding to his pride in his apparently dignified ancestory. He has opted to not try to create an ethereal gliding monster but rather presenting the aged resident of the gloomy castle with a slight limp, removed when he revives himself as a younger man on his arrival on England's shores.
Nigel Poulton has choreographed some captivating fight scenes that show the frenzy of the fight between the vampire hunters and Dracula's supernatural powers. The work also includes some breathtaking special effects and when paired with the impressive set makes for stunning imagery.
DRACULA is a stunning performance but is not for the faint hearted. Futcher has included a high level of realism and of course blood in this telling of the horror thriller and has the audience wondering what will emerge from the fog and shadows next. Brilliantly executed and amazing in its scale and detail, particularly for a touring show that will often only spend one night in a theatre before moving on to the next town. Do not miss this, but if you are easily spooked, you may want to make sure you have a sympathetic friend with you.
Photo: Dylan Evans
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23 June| Bunbury Entertainment Centre
27 - 28 June | Mandurah Performing Arts Centre
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