It was August 2015 when Brisbane’s shake & stir theatre co. premiered its production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre. Owing to the success that the initial season enjoyed, the company has decided to take Dracula on the road in a touring production that encompasses all states and territories, wrapping up in South Australia in September.
Written by the Irish novelist Stoker in 1897, Dracula is the story of a young English lawyer, Jonathan Harker (Michael Wahr), who visits Count Dracula (Nick Skubij) in his crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains on Transylvania’s border. The purpose of the visit is to assist the Count in completing a real estate transaction. But it doesn’t take long after Harker arrives at the castle for the lawyer to realise he’s become a prisoner and that his life is now in danger. Ultimately, he succeeds in escaping the castle, but it’s soon discovered that the Count has set his sights on finding new blood (literally) in England and, in the absence of swift action to prevent the vampire from spreading the undead curse, many innocent people (and eventually, the whole world) will face a terrible fate.
Exactly 120 years have passed since the novel’s publication and since that time, countless theatre companies and film and television production houses have taken the chance to bring this classic tale to stage and screen audiences (with varying degrees of success). For shake & stir’s production, co-adaptors Skubij and Nelle Lee spent considerable time with Stoker’s epistolary text to craft an adaptation that remains true to the original tale. And fortunately, on viewing the piece, that’s precisely the result.
In the title role, Skubij is both charming and chilling. His characterisation of the vampire makes us believe he has the necessary allure to initially convince Harker he’s safe in his castle, but then, at a moment’s notice, can transform into the dark and vicious creature capable of disposing of human life without warning. As Professor Van Helsing, the Dutchman with the know-how to defeat the Count, David Whitney is strong and portrays the doctor as appropriately morally righteous but also eccentric. Wahr is compelling as Harker, lending integrity to his characterisation, and Nelle Lee, as Harker’s fiancé Mina, ensures the intelligent schoolmistress – who plays an integral role in Van Helsing’s efforts to overcome the vampire – convinces us she’s of the Victorian era.
As the piece builds to its climax, central members are engaged in physical scuffles, and those moments have been well conceived by fight director and movement coach Nigel Poulton (whose work we’ve also seen on stage in Sydney this year in the outstanding Prize Fighter at Belvoir). Too often, fight choreography is naff and a detractor, but here, it genuinely enhances the dramatic scene in which it appears.
Josh McIntosh has done wonderful work in creating a set of considerable scale that immediately locates us in the vampire’s terrifying abode. Not only are time and place successfully evoked, but the movement of the set’s physical components is impressive in itself, involving tightly-timed choreography that requires cast members not to miss a beat, in order to ensure their own safety. A turntable is a key feature of McIntosh’s set and is well utilised throughout. The set is complemented by Jason Glenwright’s lighting design, which makes excellent use of gobos and haze, not only heightening mood effectively, but also creating a palpable sense of temperature (there are moments when it looks so cold, you can almost feel it).
Sound designer Guy Webster enhances crucial moments of the performance with well-selected sound effects and musical pieces, not only using that accompaniment to build tension, but to create smooth and impactful scene transitions. There’s also a good use of vocal effects for the title character’s delivery of dialogue that further adds to the sense of his otherworldliness. However, a problem is caused by the fact of the remaining cast members being unamplified. It means, at times, the contrast in volume between those cast members and the sound effects/musical pieces that directly follow their dialogue can be somewhat jarring. Consideration should be given to miking up all performers for future tour dates to alleviate this issue.
At a time when vampires have come to occupy a prominent place in pop culture, shake and stir’s Dracula is a great opportunity for lovers of theatre and classic literature alike to experience a faithful interpretation of the novel. Clocking in at 95 minutes, it’s a highly entertaining, thoughtfully-shaped production of Stoker’s battle between good and evil, science and superstition, and well worth catching as it journeys around the country.
DRACULA – 2017 TOUR DATES
2 May | Shoalhaven Theatre, Nowra
4 – 5 May | Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre
1 June | Albury Entertainment Centre
12 April | Frankston Arts Centre
19 April | Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre
21 April | Riverslinks Venues, Westside PAC Shepparton
9 May | Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
12 May | Mildura Arts Centre
15 May | Lighthouse Theatre, Warrnambool
18 – 20 May | Geelong Performing Arts Centre
25 May | Hamilton Performing Arts Centre
27 May | Cardinia Cultural Centre
30 May | Esso BHP Billiton Entertainment Centre, Sale
3 June | Burrinja Theatre, Upwey
6 June | Cardinia Cultural Centre
26 – 29 April | Canberra Theatre Centre
10 June | Theatre North at the Princess, Launceston
14- 15 June | Theatre Royal, Hobart
23 June| Bunbury Entertainment Centre
27 – 28 June | Mandurah Performing Arts Centre
30 June | Geraldton Performing Arts Centre
8 July | Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
14 July | Darwin Entertainment Centre
18 July | Mt Isa Civic Centre
21 – 22 July | Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns
27 July | Mackay Entertainment Centre
29 July | Pilbeam Theatre, Rockhampton
1 August | Brolga Theatre, Maryborough
5 August | Ipswich Civic Centre
8 – 9 August | Gold Coast Arts Centre
11 August | Empire Theatre, Toowoomba
15 August – 2 September | Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane
6 – 16 September | Adelaide Festival Centre
20 September | Barossa Convention Centre