Review: Dracula – Claydon and Brantham Village Hall (Touring)

Horror and comedy are inexorably linked. How often in a supposed gothic horror do you find yourself sniggering at the absurdity of the situation? Laughter is of course also an outlet for nervous tension and in The Keeper’s Daughter’s new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, laughter plays a key role.

Part Victorian melodrama, part gothic horror, part farce this is the tale of the Transylvanian Count as never told before.

As young Lucy Westenra receives marriage proposals from three potential suitors, a strange puncture mark on her neck begins to cause strange side effects. Despite numerous blood transfusions Lucy dies but doesn’t stay in her grave for long. Queue a mad dash across Europe, gun-totting Texans, creaking doors, gender swapping narrators and plenty of blood.

Mark Finbow’s adaptation has great fun with the source material. Though played for laughs, there are still moments of chills in true Hammer Horror style. It’s a highly inventive production that takes this highly familiar tale and turns it on its head. The Count himself only makes a fleeting appearance; instead we focus on those impacted by the Transylvanian blood lust.

Played against an almost bare stage with minimal lighting, this inventive production shows that you don’t need huge budgets to create memorable theatre. With good use of shadows there is an atmosphere here of spooky tales being told around a camp fire. There is also great use of that most underused of theatrical tricks darkness, disembodied voices echo out from around the audience building tension nicely. It is a shame more use isn’t made of this building menace to really disorient the audience.

Holly James, Stephen Drury, Alice Motram, Benjamin Willmott and Finbow himself create this hotchpotch of madcap characters, swapping roles throughout to keep the action flowing. With exaggerated gothic make up and a lose grip on reality there’s more than the lunatic Renfield in this asylum.

There are moments when the pace does drop and the ending does seem slightly rushed but at this early stage of the tour these are easily rectified. The performances also seem slightly cramped on this stage; however, that is one of the drawbacks of touring to village halls and non traditional performance spaces.

Although based on Stoker’s classic novel, this is very much a new show, while those expecting a traditional retelling may be disappointed, there’s enough tongue in cheek humour here to please all ages. For those willing to go along with the fun it’s an enjoyable, madcap and even at times spooky ride.

Review originally written for The Public Reviews

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