Written in 1897, Bram Stoker’s gothic masterpiece Dracula comes back to life on stage in a new production from Queensland’s shake & stir theatre co. Encompassing every Australian state and territory over the next seven months, shake & stir’s Dracula tour arrives at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres next weekend.
Theatre People caught up with Ross Balbuziente, who not only plays the role of Jack Seward, but is co-artistic director of shake & stir. Based in Brisbane, the company was established 11 years ago and most recently garnered acclaim for its staging of the Australian premiere of American Idiot, Green Day’s Tony Award-nominated punk rock musical.
“It went off,” Balbuziente tells Theatre People.
“It’s a show that we’re incredibly passionate about and proud of, [and] a little bit different to what shake & stir has produced in the past, but perhaps telling of some of the work that the company will be producing in the future.”
Over 700 people auditioned for American Idiot, and theatregoers travelled from far and wide to attend its Brisbane season.
“We had audience members fly [from] as far as Perth and New Zealand,” Balbuziente says. “Ten percent of the tickets sold actually were from interstate audience members.”
Dracula had its premiere at QPAC in August 2015, receiving impressive reviews and earning five nominations for the Matilda Awards, including Best Mainstage Production.
So, why did the company’s artistic directors decide to take on Stoker’s classic novel?
“So much pop culture is inspired by Dracula,” Balbuziente says.
“Nick Skubij, Nelle Lee and myself, when programming the work, wanted the challenge of presenting the original, most famous vampire story of all time on stage as a reminder as to where it all started.
“There are so many different versions and adaptations and interpretations out there. It’s very easy to go schlock horror and schlock humour. We definitely don’t go anywhere near that. That’s not what we do, and we think that would be disrespectful to the incredible author.”
shake & stir is, in fact, no stranger to adaptations of classic literary works. Its past credits include George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm.
Balbuziente talks about the challenge in realising Dracula for the stage.
“It’s a balancing act between making sure that we are faithful to the original source – because it’s a classic for a reason and it’s a beautiful piece of literature – but then, of course, having fun in a theatrical sense and trying to throw as much modern theatricality into the mix as well,” he says.
“It is faithful to the novel, and our co-adaptors, Nick and Nelle who both run shake & stir with me, worked on the adaptation for many months/years. Obviously, the original source being a collection of letters and journal entries, it was a challenge, but the result is a beautiful piece of work.”
Particular care, Balbuziente says, has been taken in dealing with the humour and horror in the piece.
“We’re dealing with a main character who sucks people’s blood, so you need to deal with that delicately and you can’t take yourselves too seriously. But then you do have to deal with the situation in all seriousness. So, it’s that balance between humour and horror and, hopefully, taking audiences on a thrilling ride, which I think we definitely do.”
Balbuziente is full of praise for the team responsible for bringing Dracula to the stage, including those tasked with creating the visual aspects of the production.
“The design team … has done an incredible job to create the atmospherics of the piece, which are just as important as the words that the actors speak when we’re dealing with gothic theatre and dealing with the most famous vampire of all time,” he says.
“Our set designer, costume designer, lighting designer [and] sound designer have all worked tirelessly to create the world that Dracula lives in – and that the rest of us are dragged into.”
He’s also very enthused about the cast.
“I get to share the stage predominantly with David Whitney, an incredibly experienced Sydney-based actor who’s done some wonderful work – and continues to do wonderful work – in all sorts of productions,” he says.
The tour wraps up on September 20 with a performance at South Australia’s Barossa Convention Centre. So, what lies ahead for shake & stir?
“Our 2018 season is full of as many surprises as we’ve already delivered in 2017, and we’ll reveal that mid-2017,” Balbuziente says.
shake & stir theatre co’s DRACULA – PARRAMATTA SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Riverside Theatres – Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
When: 1st to 4th April 2017
Tickets: Adult $52, Conc $47, 30 & Under $38
From the Box Office (02) 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au
Transaction fees: phone $4.60, web $3.60 and counter $2.60
Discounts available for Riverside Theatres’ Members
NATIONAL TOUR DATES
|7 & 8-Apr-17||Griffith Regional Theatre|
|12-Apr-17||Frankston Arts Centre|
|19-Apr-17||Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre|
|21-Apr-17||Riverslinks Venues, Westside PAC Shepparton|
|26 to 29-Apr-17||Canberra Theatre Centre|
|2-May-17||Shoalhaven Theatre, Nowra|
|4 & 5-May-17||Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre|
|9-May-17||Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo|
|12-May-17||Mildura Arts Centre|
|15-May-17||Lighthouse Theatre, Warrnambool|
|18 to 20-May-17||Geelong Performing Arts Centre|
|25-May-17||Hamilton Performing Arts Centre|
|27-May-17||Cardinia Cultural Centre|
|30-May-17||Esso BHP Billiton Entertainment Centre, Sale|
|1-Jun-17||Albury Entertainment Centre|
|3-Jun-17||Burrinja Theatre, Upwey|
|6-Jun-17||Cardinia Cultural Centre|
|10-Jun-17||Theatre North at the Princess, Launceston|
|14 & 15-Jun-17||Theatre Royal, Hobart|
|23-Jun-17||Bunbury Entertainment Centre|
|27 & 28-Jun-17||Mandurah Performing Arts Centre|
|30-Jun-17||Geraldton Performing Arts Centre|
|8-Jul-17||Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs|
|14-Jul-17||Darwin Entertainment Centre|
|18-Jul-17||Mt Isa Civic Centre|
|21 & 22-Jul-17||Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns|
|27-Jul-17||Mackay Entertainment Centre|
|29-Jul-17||Pilbeam Theatre, Rockhampton|
|1-Aug-17||Brolga Theatre, Maryborough|
|5-Aug-17||Ipswich Civic Centre|
|8 & 9-Aug-17||Gold Coast Arts Centre|
|11-Aug-17||Empire Theatre, Toowoomba|
|15 to 2-Sep-17||Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane|
|6 to 16-Sep-17||Adelaide Festival Centre|
|20-Sep-17||Barossa Convention Centre|