first night


A far cry from Twilight, Bertie Gall reviews...

 Castle Theatre Company


Last night’s performance of Dracula involved an effort in the suspension of disbelief which, once I had achieved it, allowed me to enjoy the show immensely. In current circumstances which mean that most people are thoroughly bored of vampires, it’s actually rather refreshing to go back to the beginnings of the literary tradition and see where all the familiar tropes came from. It was all there: the fear of the locals, the howling of wolves, the mysterious castle with forbidden wings, the pale-skinned black-cloaked master who crawls face-first down walls, and the petrified traveller who has to cope with it. Of course Bram Stoker, the author of the 19th Century novel, did not invent vampires, but he is considered responsible for the greater part of their form and place in the modern imagination.


In this case the novel had been considerably telescoped to produce a production not much more than an hour long. The cast, apparently, had had very little rehearsal time, and the lines were quite cleverly distributed to ensure that no character had an impossible amount of learning material. We began in the Palace Green Heritage Centre, where the atmosphere of the opening scene was unfortunately marred by one or two immature audience members; I was unsure, for now, whether Tom McNulty, the actor playing Jonathan Harker, would be able to hold our interest, as his state of fear was a little too well-sustained and could have done with some variation. As soon as we entered the Castle, however, things became more interesting: Joe Burke as Dracula quickly proved himself well-suited to the part – even his cheekbones were perfectly cast – and from now on the focus was more on action than on the relation of it. Not having seen the inside of Castle properly, I loved the “promenade” technique of having the audience led by two members of the production team between the gallery, a suite of rooms, the chapel and the crypt, sometimes being made to run to keep up with the actors. By now I was very willing to enjoy the absurd Gothic horror of it all, even the several occasions on which we left various rooms to the horrible screaming of members of the cast.


Of the members of the cast Joe Burke (Dracula) and Tom Drysdale (the Doctor) stood out as having particular assurance and stage presence, but all the roles were very well filled. As there was no stage there was no lighting equipment, and the characters’ faces were illuminated by torches carried by our chaperones, while we in the audience were given lanterns to hold. There were few props – except the odd stake and a good spattering of fake blood – and really very little ostentation, except what the setting naturally afforded. There were aspects which lacked a sense of progression, for example Harker seemed to become mortally terrified before anything particularly out of the ordinary, except the mutterings of the locals, had occurred to frighten him. On the whole, though, very good decisions had been made about movement, blocking, and interaction between characters.


It is very daring to put on a production which strays so close to the ridiculous, and which is so closely related in content to trashy thrillers and penny dreadfuls. And, despite the evident competence of the cast, it must be admitted that it was the setting that made it as effective as it was: such a performance in a theatre would have been frivolous and probably tiresome, but in the beautiful interior of Durham Castle it was extremely successful. All credit must go the director for a well-rehearsed, neatly put together and smoothly executed performance.


* * * *


Bertie Gall

16 March 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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