first night


Lauren Hitchman spends a chilling evening watching Collingwood's production of 'Dracula'


Dracula is perhaps one of the most famous works of our time, it is most often encountered as a novel, and as I such was intrigued to see how the Woodplayers would stage Stoker’s work. Despite the risk of the production slipping into gothic pastiche, on the whole, the piece was an excellent and haunting interpretation. 

The doors of Collingwood’s dining hall opened onto the audience’s seating doused in a cold, stark white lighting that plunged the stage into an ominous and haunting darkness. This contrast was further highlighted by ‘Ave maria’ being played in the background, creating a foreboding atmosphere for the horror that was to come. When the lights of the stage came up, a sparse yet effective set was exposed: a golden fireplace with a chandelier above it, a bookcase to the left and stairs to the right, all encompassed by black flats painted with gold crosses (a subtle hint at the play’s religious undertones).  The window, a pivotal plot device, was shrouded by billowing white curtains that matched the white of the chaise longue and its white throw. The colours of the set highlighted the important thematic dichotomy of good and evil and the backstage team should be commended for creating such an effective set. 

The monochrome was reflected in the fantastic costuming. Dracula’s sharp, black suit allied him, quite ironically, with Harker, whose crisp three-piece suit mirrored his reserved and restrained character. Van Helsing’s costume was a surprising, yet effective, choice. She wore a red turban, a long skirt, and a sparkling shawl that immediately contrasted her with Seward’s stuffy, old-fashioned corduroy trousers, which in many ways exacerbated the differences in their approach to medicine. Lucy’s costume change from a white, floor-length nightgown to a black silk dress with a black komodo was a little contrived and clichéd, and seemed almost an over-simplified method of characterisation. It was, nonetheless, fairly effective in demonstrating her descent from purity into evil, whilst also bringing into focus the important thematic aspect of her sexualisation by Dracula.

Sian Green, as Van Helsing, delivered a standout performance, in which she perfectly captured the tenderness that is easy to miss in the character. The adaptation of the part from male to female was interesting, and director Georgie Glen must be praised for this innovative take on the character. Green's accent could have been more consistent as it occasionally slipped, but the power in her voice was ever-present and effective. Matt Beebee's physicality as Seward was excellent, his stature demonstrating his age, and he served a fantastic contrast to the more extravagant Van Helsing. His diction could have been better as several lines were lost, but on the whole he gave a convincing and heart-warming performance. New face Luke McCormack's poise and physicality gave Harker the rationality that is vital to the character, though he lacked a little of the warmth that makes Harker such an appealing love interest and hero. On the whole, the trio's rapport ought to have been stronger. This would have significantly quickened the pace of the production, which occasionally lagged due to cues being picked up just slightly too late. 

The most vivid images in the production came from Lucy (Anna Galbraith) and occurred at the end of the first act and the beginning of the second. To finish the first act, Lucy, dressed in white with an ethereal appearance, was situated on the top of the stairs above Dracula who lifted her, as though ballroom dancing, onto his level before passionately kissing her. This strong but simple image clearly reflected Lucy's final decline into the grasps of Dracula. The image was beautifully reimagined in the second act, when Lucy – now dressed in black with elaborate, dark makeup – stood on the bed as opposed to the stairs, and loomed over Harker, who she attempted to seduce. Her positioning on the bed highlighted her descent into sexuality. Glen’s directing is to be complimented for such visually effective images, which were characteristic of the performance.

This review would be incomplete without a mention of Andrew Entwisle, who played Dracula with fantastic control. His voice was clear and cutting with a consistent accent. Despite disappointingly brief stage time, Entwisle utilised every minute to great effect, and had a masterly power over the audience.

Overall, the Woodplayers’ production of Dracula was brilliantly gripping and suitably haunting. It combines clever usages of set, costume, lighting and music with talented acting performances and I thoroughly recommend taking a trip up the hill over the next two days to watch it.

3 December 2013

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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