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Footlight’s performance of Dracula at The Grand is a fast-paced horror that faithfully adapts Bram Stoker’s original novel to the stage. We follow our leads all the way from Yorkshire to Transylvania and back as they desperately try to stop the devilish plans of the titular Count Dracula.
First of all, I couldn’t write this review without mentioning what a great venue The Grand is. Fairly unremarkable on the outside, it’s the inside that really lives up to its name. Equally impressive was the turnout- the room filled pretty well, even for the opening night. So, in a beautiful theatre with a great atmosphere, I was ready to be frightened- what better time for Dracula than October?
I was only slightly disappointed.
Here’s the thing- when you’re performing a horror story, the performance lives and dies with how scary your main threat is. You need the vampires to be suitably spooky, so your audience can really believe that they’re centuries-old, child-murdering monsters. When Dracula first appears on stage, he instead comes off as somebody’s dad hamming it up to spook the kids. If any character can get away with being a bit camp, it’s Dracula, but for me, the performance felt slightly overdone, with hissing and devilish cackles to spare.
Now, this might not have been helped by the fact that Jonathan Harker was so excellent. An amazing performance delivered just the right amount of fear and reluctant courage and made the monologues engaging rather than a chore. In fact, the majority of the human cohort was very good, with standout performances from Lucy Westenra and Dr Seward. The earnest performances gave a nice bit of relief from the complete cheese of the vampires and were especially good given that some of the actors were probably students. I’ll admit I tensed up when Mina Murray was poised to sing during a funeral scene but was pleasantly surprised by the actress’s lovely singing voice.
Unfortunately, there was one aspect that made the human characters less bearable- the constant screaming. Every scene seemed to be punctuated by an ear-splitting screech, either from on or off stage. While this did make me jump the first few times, once the numbers climbed into double digits I just started to feel sorry for the actors’ vocal chords. The guiltiest party was R.M Renfeld, the local asylum inmate. His giggling mania was unfortunately marred by sudden, inexplicable jumps to uncomfortably loud screaming, for no apparent reason. That’s not scary- it’s annoying. The audience around me seemed to agree, as during one of his little episodes I heard a woman behind me tut with such withering distaste it scalded the back of my neck.
Screaming notwithstanding, the play was certainly enjoyable. The key performances were tight, with minimal line flubbing, and Van Helsing especially had undeniable stage presence. For an amateur dramatics company, it was extremely good; indeed, despite some things that can probably be attributed to opening night kinks that need to be worked out. Overall, Dracula gets three stars from me.