Not even Van Helsing himself could drive a stake into the heart of this show.
Innes Lloyd: Dracula is a quirky and high-energy cabaret-esque retelling of the Bram Stoker novel of the same name about the infamous medieval Transylvanian icon. Written by co-stars David S. Innes and Robert Lloyd, and featuring third talent Jennifer Spiers, Dracula is a comical excavation of the facts and fictions behind the greatest creature of evil in historic literature and media, surpassing other big-name baddies like Godzilla and Frankenstein in his constant resurgence throughout time. With vampirism turning from a dark and deadly demon to a cursed and tragic teenager with sparkly skin and romantic charisma, Dracula lays down the thoughts of the Count insightfully as one of the greatest docu-comedies to come to The Butterfly Club, and perhaps Melbourne stages.
This piece was both adapted for the stage and directed by powerhouse duo Innes and Lloyd, and incorporates an uncapped amount of intelligent themes, innumerable conventions and a cohesive framework of vignettes and transitions that keep the vivacious performance flowing seamlessly. An amalgamation of signs and sound effects, physical comedy and caricature, slapstick and melodrama, this show has it all; and never does it let you scoot your boot an inch back on your chair due to its hooking you in with its blood-sucking bite and enticing you with its nether worldly charm. Separated into chapters of the tale of Mina – the often under looked heroine – and her dealings with Dracula, spaced with fun trivia minutes to give us an understanding of the interpretations, reimaginations and common misconceptions of the man, the beast and the legend, the audience are taken on a rollercoaster of hilarious antics similar to that of a quality Monty Python sketch meets The Three Stooges, bringing that charmingly dry English comedy in a very Australian way.
Jennifer Speirs plays the heroine, Doctor Mina Harker (nee Seward), with a competent and confident manner, a true feminist hero on the journey to unravel the secrets to the strange doings unfolding around her; as the vessel for the show and with a more narrative script of sorts, her part often becomes more of a plot pawn for the other two to land their jokes and have their moments. However, Spiers has a few golden seconds of hilarity to combat the two larger-than-life personalities beside her. Rob Lloyd plays the roles of Count Dracula and Professor Abraham Van Helsing, both vastly different in their character and poise; while Van Helsing was more of a serious anchor in the narrative, Lloyd’s moments as the Count were often side-splitting in their crazy contrast to the calm and collected storytelling happening within reach of him onstage, pulling drastic facial expressions and looking manic while the piece strolled along without him. However, stealing the show completely was David Innes and his A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder marathon: during this one-hour stint, Innes dons the many faces of Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westenra, Lady Westenra, RM Renfield and Quincey Holmwood, all with such switched-on energy and love for his craft that everything he did left the audience in stitches and invested in his utter conviction. Innes prowess also kept the audience completely on mark and never lost us amongst the many transitions and sudden changeovers, with each individual caricature having a very unique voice and vocal pattern, posture, poise, movement and even eye contact that defined the role dynamically. These three all build an inimitable, unstoppable tsunami of theatrics and talent.
With a near-empty set allowing complete access of the stage for uninhibited movement and only an art stand to one side propping up a large sketchbook outlining the current scene, we have a complete aesthetic in a very minimalist approach. With incredibly nuanced drawings in some of the pages flipped to provide an environment for our performers to bring to life in their accurately dated costumes, the lack of overwhelming materials made it more accessible for the audience by bringing more focus to the actors and their craft. Designed by Innes and Lloyd, Lighting and Sound Operator Sam Duncan does a fine job of hitting the beats and playing the long list of sounds from karaoke tracks to rolling thunder; in the moments where maybe a beat was missed, the organic banter and interaction between the performers onstage and Duncan in his tucked-away little booth broke the fourth wall down and created an engaged and uproarious vibe. It would almost be fair to say he was a part of the cast. The lighting designs themselves were some of the best seen in The Butterfly Club, with a channeled Fresnel on the standing sketchbook onstage to allow for transitions and side-lining specials to colour the stage blood red in scenes of danger and desperation; all in all, with the undeniably condensed and intimate space, the lighting designs make more of what the space’s limitations seem to offer, which is a feat to behold. In such a cabaret-esque stylistic piece that blatantly parodies pop culture references in its format and content, we had to only expect there to be music to accompany it. With original lyrics in cliché progressions that just fit each and every moment perfectly, Music Arrangers Caleb Garfinkel and Matthew Hadgraft provide the mould for some absolutely platinum moments to glisten, showcasing also the many other talents and resonant voices of our onstage entourage.
Although Dracula may be a little dated, staring out of the window at his stone-slab retirement coffin, we cannot deny the impact he and innovative novelist Bram Stoker have had on the evolution of horror, thriller and suspense. However, we also cannot ignore its non-fear-instilling qualities, with a long evolution of empathy for the estranged and cursed creature in literature, leading to positive reinterpretations like Twilight (ugh.), True Blood and The Count from Sesame Street. No matter who you are and how middle-of-the-woods you may feel in life, your story is worth being heard. Thanks, Dracula – we cool.