I know I say this after almost every show I see, but really this WAS the best show I’ve seen lately.
In theory it had sounded like a great concept – Staging a “Dracula” play in a faux gothic castle; but in truth I had low expectations.
This is one of those plays that if not executed properly ends up being a cheesy embarrassing shadow of the poignant gothic love/horror story written by Bram Stoker in the 1890’s.
Also not knowing anything about “Brant Theatre Workshops” the theatre Group who were presenting this adaptation, I was worried that it wouldn’t be up to scratch. Honestly, a gaggle of actors running around hissing and snarling at each other – with “bloody” mouths – would have been awful if this lot hadn’t hammed it up with exactly the right balance of tongue in-cheek professionalism.
A halo surrounded full moon visible through the arched windows is a good portent – 150 of us sit on creaky wooden chairs in the barely lit Great Hall waiting……
On the dot of 8pm the spotlights pop into action for a very casual intro by a harassed looking director. The lights dim again with the exception of one which follows the arrival of a cloaked figure striding across the room. He glares menacingly from under his top hat, en-route to the huge Wurlitzer pipe organ under the window.
He climbs up onto the elevated monstrosity; sits down and with a dramatic swish of the red satin-lined cloak, flexes his fingers, and flicks a switch on the organ’s massive console.
If you’ve ever heard bagpipes warming up – you’ll understand the din unleashed by that flick of a switch! The space reverberated with the noise of 1500 pipes screeching into activity, the like of which I have never heard in a secular space.
The organist began – a huge almost overwhelming sound -sending a movie-reel playback of every great Dracula film I’d ever seen unspooling through my mind. My husband was bristling with electricity – his sense of anticipation was palpable – this reminds us of the many cathedral organ recitals we have listened to in the UK.
Boom – instant atmosphere. To experience the sound of this marvellous anachronistic instrument being played in a castle, as a prelude to a goth horror story is priceless.
The action begins several hundred years previously, Count Dracul and his wife celebrating – above the audience in Sir Henry Pellat’s bedroom gallery – overlooking the dancers in the Great Hall. A flurry of activity above us in the first floor galleries – fast forward to his victorious return from various battles to find that his beloved Elizabeta has taken her own life, thinking that Dracul has been slain.
We are introduced to Jonathan, the earnest English lawyer who is about to travel to Dracula’s mansion in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania. He has been invited to settle some legal matters for the Count – whose real agenda is to re locate to Britain with the ultimate objective of world Vampire domination.
A hauntingly evocative eastern European ballad is then performed by a suitably exotic looking member of the cast, underpinned by gorgeous piano and voice accompaniment (by the organist).
Several more scenes follow and then within the context of one of those scenes, the audience is enticed into the library to continue the experience. We are now watching the plot unfold in the asylum for the Insane. There is all pervading odor of garlic throughout this room.
A few scenes later, the audience is split into two parts; one section goes upstairs – via the secret passage – to watch a part of the story unfold in the hall gallery whilst the remainder go into the dining room to watch the fate of Jonathan- at the hands of Count Dracula and his minions – unravel. Count Dracula manages to deftly flit between these two disparate venues and whilst in one area you can hear howling and screaming from the other. An immense tension builder…..
Be warned – Intermission is a tense affair as masked members of the cast creep up upon unsuspecting audience members and hiss……
A quick scene in the Conservatory and we are paraded in pairs from the Conservatory like guests at a ball – along the imposing wood panelled hallway back into The Great Hall with gloriously costumed members of the cast standing like sentries along the walls.
The next few scenes are action packed with the cast really throwing themselves into it – literally
The style of narrative for the original story was written as a series of letters and news reports told from the perspective of Jonathan the lawyer; Mina – his intended and Lucy, Mina’s cousin with Count Dracula, Abraham Van Helsing, Dr Holmwood and the lunatic in the actual moment.
The cast are incredible; this is physically demanding theatre as they have to run between rooms and scenes to catch their cues. The adaptation and use of all the rooms and spaces in the castle is genius – someone has had a lot of fun producing this. The musical arrangements are inspired.
Brant Theatre Workshops have been staging a version of Dracula a Love Story since 2010, so this is a tried and true formula. Hopefully it will be back at Casa Loma for Halloween.
For further info:
Over and Out