Dracula

Wed 14th – Fri 16th March 2012

reviews

Julia Chapman

at 14:49 on 5th Apr 2012

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Bram Stoker’s atmospheric and unsettling Dracula makes for a wonderful experiment in promenade theatre. Castle Theatre Company’s production of the well-known vampire story was set in Durham Castle, allowing the audience to explore parts of the wonderful World Heritage Site hitherto unseen by many. If all had failed for Dracula in a dramatic sense, it was at least an unusual way to visit a popular tourist attraction.

Fortunately, as the order of the day was not tourism but theatre, there was little to be disappointed by. The intimate audience group first stumbled across Jonathan Harker cowering in a corner of the World Heritage Centre. With Tom McNulty’s Harker as our tour guide, the audience was led to the castle where we were quickly transported to Transylvania. McNulty’s highly commendable Harker tied the piece together throughout our travels. Even when disrupted by the revelry of those around Palace Green, McNulty had a firm grasp on our attention which he refused to release.

From there, we were directed around the castle, confronted by Joe Burke as the appositely sinister Dracula, and moving from lavish living quarters to historic stone chambers. The transitions between rooms, however, were too often contrived, and only the talented actors distracted from this frustrating flaw.

The actors all seemed to possess some remarkable ethereal quality which lent itself greatly to the attempt to create an uneasy atmosphere. Hannah Thomas as Lucy, the unfortunate victim of vampires, epitomised this effect with her poignant transformation from newlywed to undead.

Unfortunately, the dénouement, which led us to the castle’s eerie Norman Chapel, was not only disorganised but entirely anticlimactic. After some shock tactics were implemented to frighten the audience and leave women screaming, Harker staggered out of the commotion, leaving the details to our imaginations and the ending to uncertainty.

Promenade theatre, especially with such richly dark material at its disposal, should aim to make the audience uncomfortable. There should be some sort of impetus for its setting beyond the simply decorative, and for movement beyond the simply touristic. The promenade setting of Dracula, although stunning, seemed an arbitrary decision. The dramatic tension was not maintained during scene shifts to make the audience feel part of the production. I don’t mean to suggest that the production should have been immersive, but feeling as though there was an interval every few minutes was highly disruptive. The most successful example of any disconcerting feeling amongst audience members was when the unearthly female vampires chose a planted actor from the audience as their supper.

What truly undermined the production was the use of ushers to direct the movement as opposed to the actors themselves. Ushers brusquely instructing audience members to run from a room at a moment’s notice inspired some laughter, wholly diminishing the drama and compromising the connecting threads that moved us from room to room.

Despite logistical difficulties, Dracula was, dramatically, an excellent piece of theatre. Ultimately, it was an admirable effort in promenade, and something I hope to see more of in student theatre in the future.

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